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The path to 33 might not be that daunting for the Heat



Miami Heat’s LeBron James (6) celebrates with fans as he walks off the court after their NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Monday, March 18, 2013. James made the go-ahead jumper with 10.5 seconds left to lead Miami to its 23rd consecutive victory, 105-103 over the Celtics. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

LeBron James and the Miami Heat are about to play another game in Cleveland.

Yawn.

That’s what a 23-game winning streak will do for a team.

It mutes even the LeBron-Goes-Home-Again hype.

Someday the Heat will lose another basketball game. Maybe even Wednesday, when the reigning NBA champions drop by James’ old neighborhood to take on James’ old team, which happens to be decimated by injuries right now.

Still, could happen. Almost did in Boston on Monday night, save for James’ game-winning jumper in the final seconds after Miami rallied from 17- and 13-point deficits to squeak past the Celtics 105-103.

But given how they wrapped up their latest “W” and what lies ahead, it may no longer be farfetched to think that the record of 33 straight victories set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers is within Miami’s grasp.

“It means a lot,” James said after the Boston game. “I know the history of the game. To be sitting in second place right now … for us to be there and doing it in the way we want to do it, it means a lot.”

It also means a lot that Miami won’t be visiting many playoff-bound teams any time soon. Five of their next six games are against teams with the worst records this season.

So, grab some popcorn and some pop and settle in to watch where this remarkable run ends up.

Here’s a breakdown of the potential Road to 34:

- At Cleveland (22-45)

While it will surely be emotional – after all, James is coming home, again – Miami would have to simply lay an egg to lose on Wednesday. The Cavs are incredibly banged up and out of the playoff race. Kyrie Irving is out, Anderson Varejao’s season is over and on Tuesday, Cleveland revealed that guard Dion Waiters may need surgery to repair a problem in his left knee.

Yes, the Cavaliers nearly knocked off the Heat in Miami on Feb. 24, but Waiters and Irving combined for 43 points in that upset bid. They’ll combine for zero on Wednesday.

Heat victory odds: Excellent.

- Detroit (23-46), Friday.

Miami has lost one game at home since mid-December and returns to face a Pistons team that has currently lost nine straight games. Brandon Knight is hurting, and probably still reeling from that DeAndre Jordan dunk incident when he was plowed over in the lane against the Los Angeles Clippers.

If there’s a silver lining for the Pistons right now, what James did to Boston’s Jason Terry on a dunk Monday night may have ensured what happened to Knight becomes a distant memory.

Heat victory odds: Excellent.

- Charlotte (15-52), Sunday.

The worst team in the NBA. Name five Bobcats. OK, name three Bobcats. Unless Michael Jordan himself plays …

Heat victory odds: Above excellent.

- At Orlando (18-49), March 25.

Here’s the first real potential for a slip-up. The Heat are 2-0 against the Magic this season, those two wins coming by a combined THREE points. And it’s on the road, in a back-to-back scenario. Miami has excelled on the second night of back-to-backs all year, but the Magic always get riled up for the Heat.

Heat victory odds: Average.

- At Chicago (36-30), March 27.

Imagine the possibilities. A Bulls team trying to stay in the fight for home-court advantage in the first round of the East playoffs, facing Miami – which provokes more lusty boos in Chicago than perhaps anywhere else – and maybe, just maybe, with Derrick Rose back in the lineup by then?

Chicago has beaten Miami already this season, doing so on the Heat home floor. And while no opponent likes the Heat, the Bulls seem to have particular disdain for them, perhaps still ticked off over how James, Chicago native Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all decided to pass on a move to the Windy City during that ballyhooed summer of 2010.

Heat victory odds: Fair.

- At New Orleans (22-46), March 29.

Worst record in the Western Conference, and not even that good at home.

Heat victory odds: Excellent.

- At San Antonio (51-16), March 31.

The Heat would be going for No. 30 in San Antonio, and even the oddsmakers in Las Vegas might list them as underdogs on this night, streak or no streak.

The Spurs keep motoring along, through injury and illness and Gregg Popovich deciding to make some sort of point by resting four key players before a game in Miami – in November, not exactly a month for playoff prepping. By the way, the skeleton crew of a team playing that night in Miami nearly beat the Heat anyway.

Of the next 10 games, if the streak is going to end, this would seem like the most likely night for the loss to arrive. Either way, it’s very much a potential NBA Finals preview.

Heat victory odds: Poor.

- New York (39-26), April 2.

The Knicks are perhaps the NBA’s most hard-luck team of late, having blown Miami out twice by 20 points and getting off to a sensational start, then having key players get hurt as the stretch run approaches.

Still, Knicks-Heat games are always great theater. Imagine the scene in Miami – where Knicks fans always seem to show up – if the Heat are still looking for win No. 31.

Because they’re home, edge goes to the reigning champs.

Heat victory odds: Good.

- At Charlotte (15-52), April 5.

Still the worst team in the NBA. Win No. 32 would be a foregone conclusion.

Heat victory odds: Excellent.

- Philadelphia (26-40), April 6.

On Final Four Saturday in college basketball, the Heat could punch their ticket to a defacto championship game. This would be for No. 33, and comes against opponents who very much play the Washington Generals to Miami’s Globetrotters: Always seems to stay close, but never get it done.

Heat victory odds: Excellent.

- Milwaukee (33-32), April 9.

It’s very likely that the Bucks and Heat will play in the first round of the East playoffs. But before that, if Miami is really going for No. 34 on this night, how fitting would it be that the Bucks are the opponent?

Jan. 9, 1972. The Bucks beat the Lakers 120-104, snapping that 33-game win streak. Does history repeat itself on April 9?

Stay tuned.


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Tags: Clevevand Lakers , Erik Spoelstra , Lebron James , Los Angeles Lakers , Miami Heat , NBA , Pat Riley



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