The Miami Heat are not infallible.
On Wednesday, the Heat lost their first game in two months. They strung together 27 straight wins in that span, the second-longest winning streak in the history of major American sports, and only six victories shy of the all-time mark.
With the streak dead and the regular season entering its final month, where do the Heat go from here?
For one thing, the loss was virtually inevitable. The Heat won several close games, squeaking by on enormous talent, but also a bit of luck that was eventually bound to turn against them.
There have been plenty of dominant NBA teams over the last 40 years, and yet only two of them have strung nearly two months’ worth of consecutive wins together. At some point, the on-paper advantage doesn’t matter, which is why you see teams winning 13 of 16 at their best, instead of 27 of 27. [Yahoo! Sports]
That the Heat came so close yet failed would seem to be a huge letdown. But after the game, players said they were pleased to be moving on.
"Nope, 27-1 in our last 28 ain't bad," guard Dwyane Wade said. "Now that it's over, I'm glad that it's over. See you all in the playoffs."
Though he and other players would obviously have preferred a win, the loss allows them to focus squarely on the postseason and on defending their title. With every win in that streak, the Heat — and specifically their highly scrutinized stars — were held up for closer inspection. The Heat were inevitably compared to all-time greats, like Michael Jordan's Bulls and the 1971-72 Lakers team that won 33 straight. Losing, and ending those comparisons, "brought closure to another senseless debate," says ESPN's Michael Wallace.
The Heat already have the Eastern Conference's top playoff seed all but locked up — they need one more win or a New York loss to make it official — so their remaining games are largely meaningless. Starters who played more minutes to keep the streak alive can finally take a much-needed rest to recharge for the playoffs.
"So much is asked of [Lebron James and Wade], and the Heat will only be more demanding during the playoffs. For that reason, it should shock no one to see [head coach Erik] Spoelstra rest his stars more now in preparation for 45-minute postseason outings. The playoffs’ commencement will tag a regular-season marathon with a dead-sprint coda, and these last few weeks of marginally meaningful games offer the best chance at scoring James and a dinged-up Wade some precious time off." [Sports Illustrated]
That the streak ended long before the playoffs might be a blessing in disguise, too. Last year, the San Antonio Spurs entered the playoffs with a 10-game winning streak that soon stretched to 20 games. Then they lost four straight to end the streak and their season, leading coach Gregg Popovich to remark that he never again wanted to endure such a long winning streak because it was "too much of a grind." He even said he briefly considered throwing a game just to end his team's run.
The Heat have no such concerns now. They can finally go back to being a normal playoff-bound team, and rest up to pursue what's always been their main goal: Another championship.
"[T]he focus for this team is on June, and the streak was merely a sideshow," says Sporting News' Sean Deveney. "No matter how many games in a row they cobbled together, none of it would matter much if they failed to win the championship."