The Heat might never lose again.
Miami won its 10th in a row Saturday with a 125-102 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Hassan Whiteside had a 30-point, 20-rebound night on 14-of-17 shooting, along with three blocks, and Dion Waiters scored 21 points. Whiteside and Waiters combined for 51 points on 21-of-27 shooting.
The 10-game winning streak is the second-longest for a team under .500 in NBA history, according to the Heat broadcast. That's a pretty obscure stat that tells us a lot about where we are with this team. To wit:
1. The streak is incredible. Winning 10 in a row is one thing, doing so with this roster is another. Erik Spoelstra deserves "Coach of the Year for Most with the Least." The Heat are playing disciplined, sharing the ball, cutting hard, defending at a high level. This streak really does show you what good team basketball in the NBA can accomplish, even under difficult circumstances. They are getting good performances, no doubt, and there is talent on this roster. But for it to go from as bad as it was to as good as it is, that's a credit to Spoelstra, who has been underrated since he was first given the job in 2008.
2. Waiters Island is REAL. Yes, Waiters has been a punchline for years. But he was playing the best ball of his career with the Thunder last year and legitimately made a difference in their playoff run. And now he's back to making big-time plays. His combination of skill and athleticism is rare. Check out this move:
And of course, he's still Dion Waiters. Watch him hold it:
Waiters is a good NBA player. Waiters Island is risen.
3. There's really no sense of a direction here, still. Consider this. The Heat have won 10 games in a row. They are still nine games under .500. Now, they are only two games back of the eighth seed Detroit, because the Pistons, Hornets, Bucks and Knicks have all hit bad stretches at the same time. But does the eighth seed do anything for this franchise? Does a sweep to the Cavaliers give them a real push in free agency? Does it give them real momentum headed into next season?
And it's not even likely that they reach the playoffs. It's important to keep in mind lessons from the past, like the Blazers. Portland went 18-7 in January and February last season, but were under .500 for the remainder of the year. Portland went on that run, which ultimately nabbed them the fifth seed in the West, thanks to both beating bad teams, and catching good teams at the low points of their season. Good teams still have stretches where they play badly. Miami caught the Warriors at the end of an East Coast road trip. They landed Houston when they haven't been able to hit the 3 and are playing the worst ball of their season.
Does Miami deserve credit for those wins? Absolutely! Most bad teams aren't going to beat those teams, even on their bad nights. But it does provide context. And Miami has to not only catch Detroit, but hope that none of the other teams get it together to make a run.
Meanwhile, the Heat have slipped to the 10th pick in the draft if the lottery went chalk today. They need a new superstar, this draft is loaded with potential ones, and they are winning their way out of a good spot in it.
4. But winning is all they can do. The misconception about tanking in the NBA is that players try and lose. They don't. They're a competitive bunch in the vast majority. Teams set their rosters up to lose. This roster wasn't set up to win, it was a rebuilding year, but they're finding a way. The team isn't going to step in and try and stop that, nor should they. What they have going is fun and good for the fans and organization, even if it hurts an overall plan that would require a pick. Pat Riley hates the draft anyway.
Is this run likely to be meaningful? No. But it should be noted their schedule is a complete cakewalk through the end of February. They face just three teams over .500 through March 3. This could go on a while, and if it does, hey, who knows. Sometimes the start of new contending cores, like the one in Toronto, come out of nowhere. The future is unknowable. Probability does not mean inevitability, and the one thing we cannot predict right now is what will happen next with this Miami Heat team.