MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James once carried a team to 66 wins. Ray Allen played for a club that won 19 consecutive games. Dwyane Wade led a team that finished with the Eastern Conference’s best record.
For each, it’s a footnote in seasons where no championship was won.
There’s no arguing that the Miami Heat are playing better than any other team in the NBA right now. They’ve won 18 straight games, are sitting atop the league standings and have a very real chance of wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the East playoffs by the end of the month. While all that sounds good, it’s not changing the singular priority of this Heat season.
Championship-or-bust was the thinking Miami carried into this year, and not even the seventh-longest winning streak in NBA history has changed that.
“It’s not our goal,” James said. “Our goal isn’t to win games consecutive. Our goal is to win a championship. Right now, our goal is to get better each and every game, to continue to improve. That was never one of our goals coming into the season, see how many games we’d win in a row. Our goal is to win a championship and not take any shortcuts in that process.”
Miami will try for its 19th straight win on Tuesday night, when the Heat play host to the Atlanta Hawks — a team that’s 0-3 against the reigning NBA champions this season. After that, a trip to Philadelphia awaits on Wednesday, to face a 76ers team that has lost 13 straight regular-season meetings against Miami.
Win on Tuesday, and the Heat would match the fifth-longest winning streak in NBA history.
Win Tuesday and Wednesday, and then it becomes truly rarefied air, because Miami would be just the fourth team to ever win 20 straight in the same season.
“You don’t want to take a team like this for granted,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve talked about this with our group for the last few days. It’s a special group. It’s a special opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed. We’re going after something that’s an unknowable future. But we have an opportunity, a legitimate opportunity, so we have to make the most of every day we have together.”
Ask the Heat, and they’ll say they respect the historical aspects of what’s going on, but they’ll also be quick to point out that the Larry O’Brien Trophy doesn’t get awarded after epic winning streaks.
“We know what our prize is,” Allen said. “And it’s waiting for us.”
The streak’s latest addition came on Sunday night, when even on a rare subpar scoring night from James, the Heat rolled past Indiana 105-91 in a game where Miami took control with a huge start to the third quarter and was never seriously threatened again.
Sunday’s win was significant for many reasons, namely that the Pacers are the closest thing the Heat have to a nemesis these days in the East, that they were 2-0 against Miami this season and that they were the last team to beat the defending champions way back on Feb. 1.
In the five-plus weeks since, all the Heat have done is take what was a close race in the East and make it a total runaway, assume the top spot in the NBA standings and become the first team to clinch a playoff spot — not that getting one was ever, ever in doubt.
“Right now, honestly, it doesn’t really feel like we are on this kind of win streak,” Wade said. “We are just coming in and we’re just taking care of business. We come in every day when coach calls us in, and we do our work and we come back and we just play. We’re not in the locker room saying, ‘Aw, we’re on this win streak and it’s amazing.’ To us, we’re just playing basketball.”
So how, Wade was asked, will the Heat not get bored when the games down the stretch of the regular season inevitably become less-than-significant in terms of the East playoff race?
“Keep showing up at the gym,” Wade said. “We’re a focused team. We’re a veteran team. We have a goal. The biggest thing for us is to come in and continue to go through this process.”
The numbers during this 18-game streak are staggering.
James is averaging 27.2 points on 60 percent shooting. Wade is averaging 24.3 points on 55 percent shooting. Chris Bosh is at 16.6 points on 54 percent shooting.
And they haven’t been doing it alone, either. Some nights, it’s Shane Battier hitting big shots to be the difference-maker. Sometimes, it’s Allen, who seems to be hitting his stride again. On Sunday, it was Mario Chalmers, who scored 26 points on only nine shots to help carry the Heat past the Pacers.
James will likely be the NBA’s MVP again, but he’s hardly had to be the lone star for the Heat.
“I know you can’t win an Oscar unless everybody does their job,” Wade said.
At some point, the streak will end. It might happen Tuesday. It might happen Wednesday. It might happen next week or next month. Whenever it does, the goal then will be the same goal the Heat have now.
That doesn’t mean the Heat aren’t enjoying these moments. It simply means they aren’t losing sight of the bigger picture.
“I understand the history of the game,” James said. “We should be happy and excited about the opportunity right now.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.