The winning streak lives on after two wildly different paths to victories thanks to the individual brilliance of LeBron James, who is asserting himself as an MVP candidate once again, and the collective cohesion of the entire team including valuable contributions from Chris Bosh, Carlos Arroyo and even Joel Anthony.
On Friday night, it was all about LeBron as the fans of the New York Knicks apparently didn't learn the lesson that Cleveland Cavs fans learned the hard way: don't boo him. It was almost an effortless triple-double with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists with his jump shots falling from every spot on the floor and the court vision to find easy basket for others. But this Heat team isn't really about just one superstar, unlike the Knicks, and that's why they break down teams over the course of 48 minutes. That's the reason why James, Wade and Bosh joined forces. Wade isn't deferring to James, James isn't deferring to Wade, and Bosh is quickly figuring out his role on the team. All of them are stepping up on defense, crashing the boards and attacking the basket without forcing the action - the Heat's undoing early in the season.
The Knicks played well in the first half with Danilo Gallinari leading the way with 21 points and Amare Stoudemire chipping in 10 points to help keep them even with Miami. But a team coached by Mike D'Antoni can only beat an elite team like the Heat if their offense is clicking the entire game but the Heat shut them down in the second half. Gallinari only had 4 points in the second half and Joel Anthony had his best game of the season with a superb defensive effort against Stoudemire. The Heat's interior defense put on a clinic on the Knick's superstar as his streak of nine games scoring 30+ points came to a grinding halt. Juwan Howard and Chris Bosh also had their moments keeping Stoudemire from dominating the paint, a huge issue for the Heat in previous losses to the New Orleans Hornets and the Utah Jazz.
What makes the Heat so dangerous (and what proved to be the Knicks downfall) is that they can beat a team in different ways. They can put on their best impersonation of the Phoenix Suns and run and gun their way to a victory with their offense but this winning streak is intact because of their defensive stops, which leads to easy baskets in transition by having the two best finishers in the NBA. Both facets of the Heat were on display in the second half, especially the third quarter where the Knicks kept missing long jumpers and their interior defense yielded easy baskets inside for Bosh and even a wide-open dunk for Anthony. Speaking of Bosh, Knicks fans chanted "overrated" when he took free throws and yet he outplayed Stoudemire on both ends of the floor. The Knicks were only able to muster up 17 points each in the third and fourth quarter as the Heat collectively dismantled their old rivals in clinical fashion in one of their best performances of the season...
...and the next day against the Washington Wizards they played their worst game in almost a month and yet they still won.
The weakest team in the Eastern Conference (which is really something) without their two best players (John Wall out again with injury and Gilbert Arenas traded to the Orlando Magic) deserved to end the Heat's winning streak. But they couldn't close out the game by playing 45 minutes of superb basketball, not 48 and much like Utah's victory over Miami that was enough to turn the tide. Despite being shorthanded, several Wizards players proved that the team's future might indeed be bright. Nick Young was a revelation with an impressive offensive range, ending up with 30 points. Kirk Hinrich always plays well against Wade and the Heat with Saturday night no exception. Andray Blatche also had an impressive game with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Wizards were up by 8 midway through the fourth quarter and the Heat still didn't have any answers for the Wizards' surprisingly pesky defense which closed off lanes to the basket and forced James and Wade into long jumpers through most of the game. With two minutes left in the game, the Wizards were holding the league's hottest team at bay and were up by 89-83. Then the Wizards had a rare turnover that led to an easy James breakaway dunk. Josh Howard responded with a short jumper to put the lead back up to 5 points with just 32 seconds left. What followed were several mistakes by both teams in one of the more bizarre endings of a game in recent memory.
- Chris Bosh hits nothing but net from beyond the arc with a great impersonation of Paul Millsap. 89-91
- James Jones commits a huge error on the inbounds play by committing a needless foul on Blatche. There was almost a four second difference between the shot clock and the game clock. The Heat could have just buckled down on defense and not foul and they still would have enough time to get a potential game-winning shot before the clock expired.
- With the shot clock reset because of the foul, it's now turned off and the Heat are forced to foul to get the ball back. Thankfully, Howard does the Heat a favor by missing one of two free throws with 19 seconds left but manages to get the rebound off of his own miss and gets fouled again. James made the mistake of not closing Howard out to prevent the offensive rebound. Howard comes through again for Miami as he misses another free throw but does hit the second one.
- Blatche with the foul on Bosh from behind the three-point line in the next possession gives the Heat yet another chance to catch up to the Wizards. Bosh hits 2 of the 3 free throws to make it 91-93.
- Young then loses the ball to James Jones on the inbounds play and he calmly makes both to tie the game. OK, so he made up for that bad foul earlier.
- Chalmers commits the latest Heat blunder by pushing Hinrich out of bounds for the foul. The shame is that it likely would have been a Wizards turnover anyway since Hinrich was already unbalanced trying to catch the poor pass. A normally reliable free throw shooter, Hinrich misses one of the free throws. And you thought only cats have nine lives.
- The Wiz double-team James near their own basket, leaving a wide-open Wade to take the inbounds pass at halfcourt and barrel down the lane for the foul to prevent the easy layup. The Heat take their first lead of the quarter with the two free throws to make it 95-94 with 7 seconds left.
- Hinrich attempts to take matters into his own hands and keeps the ball to himself as he flies out of control towards the basket. Bosh and James jump straight up and Hinrich creates contact by sticking his arm out. Superb no-call on the play.
- Wade grabs the airball and flings the ball up in the air much like the end of the 2006 NBA Finals. Scarily enough, the ball isn't thrown high enough and the Wizards appear to get one more chance for a desperation shot but it's game over with the winning streak intact. Wow.