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Even huge deficits aren't derailing Heat

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MIAMI (AP) - For the Miami Heat, it has been anything but an ordinary path along the way to this extraordinary 24-game winning streak.

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There have been blowouts, buzzer-beaters and now a pair of huge second-half rallies. Or, as Dwyane Wade would call it all ...

``Fun,'' the Heat guard said.

These days, everything - even huge deficits - seems like fun for the reigning NBA champions, who haven't lost a game in nearly two months. And this week has brought perhaps the two most scintillating additions to the league's second-longest winning streak ever, now nine shy of matching the Los Angeles Lakers of 1971-72 for the top spot on that list.

They were down by 17 in Boston on Monday, then trailed by 27 in Cleveland on Wednesday. Somehow, someway, the streak lived on both times, and Miami now has a chance at consecutive win No. 25 on Friday night when they play host to the Detroit Pistons - a team that has lost nine in a row.

``Faith,'' said Heat forward Shane Battier, whose 3-pointers helped spark the comeback in Cleveland. ``We have a lot of faith in each other, a lot of faith of what we can do. When we give the effort and the concentration, we can do some pretty amazing things. We don't want to keep proving that. We'll take a more consistent effort versus turning the jets on when we have to, but I'm proud of the resolve of this team.''

Apparently, so are those 1971-72 Lakers. At least, some of them are.

Heat President Pat Riley played for that 33-in-a-row club, so it's a safe bet that he's thrilled to see history possibly repeating itself with him being part of it again. And on Thursday, NBA legend Jerry West - another part of that Lakers team - made clear that he's enjoying watching this Heat run as well.

``It may not end,'' West said. ``That's why I think it's so remarkable.''

During this stretch of 24 straight victories, the Heat have not trailed at any point in the second half on 10 occasions. In 13 of their previous 14 games before the trip to Boston, they never faced even a double-digit deficit, the lone exception being when they trailed the New York Knicks by 16 points at Madison Square Garden before pulling off a comeback.

In their past 11 games before Boston, Miami's fourth-quarter deficits - combined - were 22 points. Against the Celtics and Cavs alone, the combined Heat deficits in the fourth quarter were, again, 22 points.

So dizzying was the comeback that, when it was over, Wade wasn't sure about the streak's length.

``What are we at, 24 games?'' Wade asked. ``You start losing count.''

And it remains anyone's guess when the Heat will lose another game.

The end sure looked like it arrived on Wednesday, when Heat trailed 67-40 at Cleveland in the third quarter. A tad over 12 minutes - basically, the length of one NBA quarter - later, a 45-12 run had given Miami an 85-79 lead.

Afterward, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra revealed the not-very-elaborate strategy behind the comeback: Make shots at one end, get stops at the other.

``That's part of their greatness,'' Spoelstra said. ``Great competitors making big shots like that, that's just us stepping back and letting them do their thing.''

Spoelstra did more stepping back after that comeback in Cleveland. Not only did Miami get Thursday off from practice, but the Heat also will not hold their customary game-day shootaround Friday morning, likely opting instead for an afternoon walkthrough before the game against the Pistons - a game that, late Thursday, was added to NBA TV's broadcast schedule because of the interest in the streak.

With 18 games in March, Spoelstra was concerned about how to get through the rigors of such a jampacked month. The team has largely given up practices in recent weeks, opting instead for rest, with shootarounds being the primary method of gameplanning. Given how Miami was able to rally against both Boston and Cleveland - at the end of a road trip, no less - it seems like Heat legs are fairly fresh right now.

``Every team is going to give us a good shot, no matter their record, no matter who's out on the floor,'' said James, who had a triple-double in Cleveland, surely to the dismay of his former hometown fans. ``We're going to get their best and we should enjoy that. We should embrace that.''

James found a way to deliver when Miami needed him most on Wednesday. He didn't have a great shooting night and still wound up with 19 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks in the second half alone against the Cavs. Other than the reigning MVP, only three players in the league have put up those stats in a full game this season.

``Us as a team,'' James said, ``we can make a run.''

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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