The Heat got lucky. They got all the rolls, all the whistles, and the winner, a LeBron James layup with three seconds left, came off a timeout that was never called. It's almost a paradox: You get all the breaks when you're the type of team that can win 16 in a row, but you also don't win 16 in a row without getting some breaks.
Orlando, the consensus best team on the court last night, nearly snapped the streak in a physical battle of Florida. They were led by their own unlikely big three: Big man Nikola Vucevic, acquired from Philly in the Dwight Howard deal, had 21 boards to go with 25 points. (The last time he faced Miami, on New Year's Eve, Vucevic sprung for 20 points and 29 rebounds. The Heat remains ultra-vulnerable in the paint.) The criminally and perpetually uncelebrated Jameer Nelson clocked 16 points and 14 assists. And Moe Harkless, almost an afterthought in the Howard trade, has stepped in for J.J. Redick nicely, adding three steals and two blocks to go with 12 points in 39 minutes.
So, naturally, two of them weren't on the court in crunch time, after the Magic had overcome a 20-point hole. The Heat had a ridiculous free throw disparity, going to the line 31 times compared to the Magic's 12. The fouls added up, and by the time the game came down to one possession with 12.6 seconds left, Vucevic and Harkless had fouled out, as had Tobias Harris and his 16 points off the bench. (LeBron James somehow didn't rack up a single foul, and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had just three between them.)
"You can add it up," said Jacque Vaughn. "Thirty fouls to 17 fouls and three of our guys foul out, but one day we will get there."
Al Harrington missed a three that would have put the game out of reach, and James corralled the rebound. Then, a whistle, that no one had called for.
"It was a miscommunication with the officials," Erik Spoelstra said. "I had told them if [Orlando] makes it we're calling timeout. They missed, but he assumed we wanted one. Those things happen so we just went with it."
"I had just settled for two threes before that," James said afterward. "So there was no way I was going to shoot another jumper on that play."
Do things end differently if Harkless was still in the game to guard James, instead of DeQuan Jones? If Vucevic is clogging the paint instead of Harrington? Dwyane Wade knows what's up:
"You cannot win that many games in a row without winning some games that you shouldn't win," Wade said. "You've just got to get lucky and you've got to get some breaks."
Truth, but you also have to be damned good. The Heat haven't just stumbled their way into a 16-game win streak, nearly halfway to the all-time NBA record of 33, set by the '71-'72 Lakers led by Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Gail Goodrich. Not a bad big three, those. But could they have done something this pretty on a 3-on-1 break? Poor Arron Afflalo:
On Friday, Miami hosts the woeful Sixers. On Sunday they get the Pacers, who have beaten them twice already this season.