NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 22, 2013

Heat hot at home; team record within reach

By Ira Winderman
Sun Sentinel (MCT)

---- — MIAMI — The streak everyone is talking about remains the NBA’s ultimate talking point, barely, after Wednesday’s escape against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, a remarkable comeback from a 27-point deficit that now has the Miami Heat at 24 consecutive victories, nine shy of the league’s all-time record.

But when the Heat play Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Detroit Pistons, their first home game in 10 days, they’ll rejoin another streak already in progress.

With 15 consecutive home victories, the Heat are three shy of matching the franchise record set from Jan. 23, 2005 to April 5, 2005 by the Dwyane Wade-Shaquille O’Neal-era Heat.

At 30-3 at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat are tied with the Denver Nuggets for the best home record in the league, without a home loss since Jan. 4 against the Chicago Bulls, with the other home losses on Dec. 12 against the Golden State Warriors and Dec. 6 against the New York Knicks.

Although the Heat stand tantalizingly close to the all-time overall 33-game winning streak of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA’s all-time home streak remains a distant vision, 44 in a row by the Chicago Bulls bridging the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons.

But it is the success at home that propped up the Heat before they finally took off on what now is a 12-game road winning streak.

“Early on,” forward Shane Battier said, “our home record saved us, when we were struggling on the road. Home has always been a great source of confidence for us. When thing aren’t going well on the road, we can usually correct it during a homestand.”

The ultimate goal is homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, with the 24-game winning streak vaulting the Heat to the league’s top record. The magic number for homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs is four, any combination of Heat victories or Indiana Pacers losses.

“Every time we start the season, we always say we have to protect our home court,” center Chris Bosh said. “And doing that, that kind of helped us continue to be decent in the early part of the season when we were struggling on the road a little bit.

“We wanted to build that habit, because in the playoffs, if you have homecourt advantage and you protect home court, you can win it all. We all know if it comes down to Game 7, you’d rather be at the crib than be on the road.”

While the recent road victories, particularly the past two against the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, have been completed amid an air of desperation, the home games have turned into appointment viewing, from pregame dunk shows by LeBron James to A-list celebrities dotting the front rows, especially amid the golf and tennis tours passing through South Florida.

“We have a great energy in our arena,” Battier said. “Our fans are excited for a show, and I’ve always maintained that we have a lot showmen on this team. And so, after the first LeBron dunk or Dwyane dunk, the crowd is really hoping for more, and I think that picks up our overall play.”

While nothing the balance of the season might match what James did Monday night to Celtics guard Jason Terry, the alley-oop passes tend to come with greater regularity at home.

“Our crowd has done an excellent job getting behind us,” guard Mario Chalmers said. “So of course we want to put on a show for them.”

To a degree, the upcoming two-game homestand against the Pistons and then Sunday against the Charlotte Bobcats following the just-completed five-game trip is merely a pit stop, to be followed by a four-game trip that opens Monday against the Orlando Magic.

Yet for the overall streak to continue, 30-3 at home has to turn into 32-3.

“You always want to protect home court,” Chalmers said. “We’re in a nice groove at home. Everybody gets to be comfortable, can be in their rhythm. We just go off that.”

And they’re doing that while also reminding the rest of the league of just how significant that homecourt advantage could become the postseason.

“You don’t want to take it for granted,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You want to build a tough environment for teams to come into, where they don’t feel comfortable, where they don’t feel confident coming in to your building.”

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©2013 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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