THE THING about most sports streaks is that they are bound to end one day.
Somewhere down the road, a young gifted athlete will turn the world upside down and shatter longevity and performance records. Or an assault at an existing team record will just simply end. For now, the 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers record of most number of consecutive regular season NBA wins (33) will stay unperturbed. Today’s Miami Heat valiantly challenged it, but the run stopped at 27 as the tenacious Chicago Bulls, shorthanded and all, refused to be the 28th victim, winning at home, 101-97, last Thursday.
The Bulls played again without Derrick Rose but this time, they also did not have tireless inside worker Joakim Noah. But Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich took care of the house as they controlled the game for the most part. Deng hit treys when they mattered to keep the frustrated Heat at bay. Boozer collared key offensive rebounds and Hinrich ran the floor and found open teammates.
You just have to like the Bulls who played as if their survival mattered although it really did not. They just brought an NBA playoff attitude to the game and decided that they would not lose at the Madhouse in Madison (the new sobriquet to describe the United Center in Chicago). Their work ethic was evident in their defense and stubborn desire to collect every rebound. They outrebounded the Heat, 43-31, and that’s the way all coaches want their teams to play, night in and night out.
The key Chicago tactic was to challenge the Heat, especially LeBron James, whenever they attacked the basket. The ploy seemed reminiscent of the alleged Jordan Rules employed by the Detroit Pistons of the 90s to prevent Michael Jordan from creating major offensive damage. Jordan was bludgeoned and hammered every time he soared for the basket. In time, Jordan adjusted and developed fadeaway jumpers and floaters that were unstoppable. Even Detroit’s rules were ineffective against the adjustment.
James was obviously peeved at the way he was banged in Chicago. The reality seems oddly unfair when James tries to bang back because it looks like he’s the bully imposing his will on smaller, leaner less physically gifted opponents. James is just simply the focus of defenses of all their future opponents down the road. He will have to adjust his game just as Jordan did his 20 years ago.
One area of adjustment will be passing off more. James has sharpened his passing over the last two years and had generously dished to Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But this time around Ray Allen is already with the Heat and James could pass off more to the silky smooth shooter who still has the touch.
The Heat are done chasing that Laker record and can now focus on getting ready to defend their title in the playoffs that are just three weeks away. The good thing about pursuing records is that it forces you to play well each night and find a way to win. The Heat had to eke out at least five apparently lost causes to keep the streak going. A Heat team that knows how to win even when all seems lost is a difficult opponent in the playoffs.
The Heat can try again next season if the momentum presents itself. Who knows? Maybe they could win 34 straight next time around.