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Heat win validation vs. Lakers, but rough stretch looms

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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MIAMI -- It wasn't long ago when the thought of a Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat series for the NBA title wasn't outlandish.

Perhaps it still isn't.

Because what happened Thursday night at American Airlines Arena -- a 94-88 Heat win -- could mean so very much to Miami, which had been reeling through a five-game losing streak and assorted other dismissals.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says Chris Bosh was 'dead-ass serious' in preparing for the Lakers. (Getty Images)  
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says Chris Bosh was 'dead-ass serious' in preparing for the Lakers. (Getty Images)  
"What better game to get back on track?" Miami's Dwyane Wade asked.

True enough.

The Lakers had won eight consecutive times and are, after all, the two-time reigning champions.

The Heat needed a win against an elite team. They now have beaten L.A. twice, but remain 0-9 against San Antonio, Dallas, Boston and Chicago.

It was L.A. head coach Phil Jackson who said before the game, "I'm not a big fan of the style Miami plays. I like to see everybody involved."

It was a criticism of how often superstars Wade and LeBron James dominate Heat possessions, though it wasn't exactly truth in advertising, considering the headliner role Kobe Bryant plays for the Lakers and what Michael Jordan used to do for Jackson when they were together in Chicago.

"Commentary," James called Jackson's statement. "Phil's going to be Phil."

But the Heat would do well to both ignore the insult -- Jackson said they play "Xbox basketball" that's all one-on-one -- and appreciate the assessment.

Miami, in fact, put on as good an ensemble act Thursday night as it has all season.

Chris Bosh, who asked to be more involved in the offense, led the scoring with 24 points, while Wade added 20 and James 19. Mike Miller scored 12 points off the bench and grabbed seven rebounds. Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby divided point-guard duties almost evenly, combined for 15 points and had just one turnover.

"That's a stubborn group," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said of his team. "The guys didn't collapse."

Spoelstra called the harsh Heat reviews of late nothing more than "noise."

But will the victory signal an end to Miami's recent malaise, or will it turn out to be merely an interruption? The Heat's next five games are against Memphis, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Denver, with only the Hawks on the road. It's a continuation of a nasty stretch.

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Already, by the way, Miami -- which has slipped to third place in the Eastern Conference standings -- has begun to involve itself in rationalization.

"I never like to underestimate the regular season," James said, "but it's not as big as everybody says. I'd rather go on the road."

No, he wouldn't.

If the Heat were leading the pack, James would be talking about the importance of working from a top-seeded playoff position and the value of starting with home-court advantage in series after series.

It'll be interesting to see whether the victory rejuvenates the Heat, who have been mocked for their recent failures in the wake of all the preening they did after bringing James and Bosh to join Wade as a core group.

Spoelstra said Bosh, who has had difficulty getting comfortable in offensive sets, was "dead-ass serious" in preparing for the Lakers.

"I told [Spoelstra] I wasn't playing around," Bosh said. "I knew people were going to be waiting to see what my reaction was."

Jackson offered a compliment -- and a challenge -- to the Heat after the game.

"They beat us to the ball," he said. "They were quicker than we were."

A steal by Wade against Bryant with a feed to James, in fact, broke an 88-88 tie and set the Heat on the way to the win.

"They played better than we did," Jackson said. "I think they can play better than they did. I hope to see them again sometime this year."

That can only happen in the NBA Finals, of course, which still might not be such a far-fetched notion.

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