So the Miami Heat take an 11-game win streak to Milwaukee on Wednesday night. What’s the best thing that could happen now?
The obvious answer is make it a 12-game win streak. What, you allergic to winning?
The NBA, however, is a strange place at this time of year. Fans worry about their team wasting an opportunity at a lottery draft pick by stinking badly enough to miss the league’s wide postseason net but not going all the way to utterly rancid.
That’s where Miami is now at 22-30, a couple of games back of what would be the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference if the season ended today, which it almost never does.
You know they’re saying that the NBA draft pool is deeper and more talented than usual. They’re saying that qualifying for that final playoff spot doesn’t mean much once LeBron and the Cavs are finished messing you up in the opening round. They’re saying all kinds of things, but through it all I say win as many games as you can, period.
To do less is to fall short of the dedication level of the paying customers up in the stands, which no professional organization should ever do. And if being just a little bit good but not great is an unforgivable sin, then what’s the point of having half the teams that are in this league?
On this same week back in 2004 Miami was bumping along in a similar limbo. Stan Van Gundy has pushed the team to a 21-32 record but he was running out of ideas at the end of a five-game losing streak. There sat the Heat, outside the playoff picture and in the running for some top draftee names like Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor and Shaun Livingston.
So what happened? Some rookie named Dwyane Wade scored 27 points to help the Heat eke out a close win over a truly lousy Orlando team. Whatever. Then the Heat started putting together a few modest win streaks. Fine. Then, in March, they won seven in a row. Fun.
Before you know it, South Florida’s getting interested in getting tickets for a game again, because Miami is climbing past a bunch of dog teams to grab the conference’s No. 4 seed in the playoffs at 42-40.
The Heat beat New Orleans in a physically tough seven-game series to open the playoffs. That was really Wade’s coming-out party, and it continued with a second-round series that pushed Indiana to six games. This wasn’t the greatest thing ever to happen to the franchise, but it was entertaining, and it sure beat sinking to the bottom of the standings just to get a shot at some college kid who might not pan out anyway.
As it was, Miami took Dorell Wright, a solid player but not a star, with the 19th overall pick in the 2004 draft. Could have been a little better, but there were no guarantees, and Pat Riley has never much cared for the draft anyway.
He went out that summer and got Shaquille O’Neal instead, trading away a future first-round pick as part of a large package. The franchise’s first championship season wasn’t far away after that.
Dwight Howard, the raw, rebounding bull who went first overall in 2004 to that previously mentioned lousy Orlando team, is still looking for his first.
No telling what might happen when it comes to veterans moving around and teams manipulating contracts and league rules closing and opening loopholes. What we should know without much of a doubt is this.
Winning is good. It builds and maintains the proper mindset for an entire organization. It tells fans they are not fools. It recognizes that no one star coming out of the draft will bring a championship in one hearty swipe.
Anything else is just playing the lottery and, just as in real life, that’s not much of a plan.