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Ill-timed or not, Heat continue march of historic greatness

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BOSTON -- This is how it feels when the Heat play the Celtics in Boston: The building rumbling with joy as the Celtics build a double-digit lead, the thick accents from the seats above the players' tunnel rat-tat-tatting LeBron James or Dwyane Wade with that New England staccato, calling them "gahbage."

In what is supposed to be "gahbage" time of the NBA regular season, the Heat have begun marching toward history. At a time when they're supposed to be resting their minds and bodies for the playoffs, their greatness has gotten in the way.

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Five years to the night when the Celtics ended the 2007-08 Houston Rockets' 22-game winning streak, the Heat trudged past that mark Monday night with a 105-103 victory against a very different Celtics team. Only one landmark stands before them now: the Lakers' 33-game winning streak of 41 years ago.

History in the making, at the most unexpected -- and perhaps most inopportune -- time.

"They're champions and they take that mantle and they want to prove it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers was saying before the game. "We went through that. Listen, even though you as a coach sometimes say, 'Man, this is exhausting. Every night they're attacking us, every team,' the players are thinking, 'Yeah, we're the champs and we're going to act like that.' And what they're doing right now is, they're acting like they're champs."

Rivers, the brilliant coach who somehow had the Celtics poised to end the longest NBA winning streak in five years despite Kevin Garnett joining Rajon Rondo and a legion of others among the injured, sick or otherwise unavailable, paused for a moment and added, "From last year."

That was the only thing Rivers was wrong about -- one of the few things he has ever been wrong about when his Celtics have played the Heat here in Boston, where Miami had lost 10 consecutive regular-season games, including 0-5 during the Heat's Big Three era. The Heat are playing like the champions of last year and this year. They are playing like a team for the ages, hurtling toward history.

Twenty-three in a row. Ten more to the Lakers.

"I know the history of the game," LeBron James said afterward. "So to be sitting in second place right now, it means so much for us to be there doing it the way we want to do it."

The Celtics, without Rondo for the rest of the season and without Garnett on this night due to a combination of illness and injury, jumped all over the Heat in this building where they've waged so many thrilling battles. With Jeff Green leading the way with a career-high 43 points, they opened a 12-point lead in the first quarter and built it to 17 in the second. They survived the typical James-induced whiplash and still led by 13 with 8½ minutes left.

The Heat outscored the Celtics 22-7 the rest of the way, with James scoring 13 of the points and assisting on seven more. The past playoff failures here a distant memory, James refused to allow this streak to end. He finished with 37 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and one streak intact.

"Just LeBron being LeBron," teammate Shane Battier observed. "I don't have any other words that you guys haven't already used before. He's the best. You never take that for granted. Shame on anybody that takes No. 6 for granted."

Battier was on that Rockets team that won 22 in a row five years ago, and was there when the streak ended with a 20-point loss to the Celtics. It was a weird night like this, when Boston was without one of its stars, Ray Allen, and got an unexpected boost from a reserve named Leon Powe, who scored 21 points. Battier recalled Monday night how the streak in Houston began to take on a life of its own.

"People were more curious than anything, to be honest," Battier said. "Like, 'What the hell are these guys doing? On paper, they shouldn't be winning this many games.' I think it was more curiosity than anything."

With Miami, it's different. With most of the Eastern Conference in shambles beneath them, the Heat are hammering the accelerator. They will complete a five-game road trip Wednesday night in Cleveland, where James will play for the first time as an NBA champion. Then, it's two more winnable games at home against the Pistons and Bobcats for 26. A four-game road trip will conclude March 31 in San Antonio, representing potentially a 30th consecutive victory.

If it lasts that long -- and, far be it from anyone to suggest that it won't or can't, the way Miami is playing -- the media circus will be in full-on, big-tent mode. Then it's the freefalling Knicks at home (31), followed by games at Charlotte (32) and home to the Sixers on April 6, the potential record-tying night.

The record could fall on April 9 at home against the Bucks, which would give the Heat exactly one week to come down from this unanticipated regular-season high and gather themselves for the playoffs.

Is it bad timing? An unnecessary distraction at a time when the Heat should be coasting to the No. 1 seed and sizing up potential first-round opponents who are all disintegrating before their eyes? Yes, and yes. But sometimes, greatness is as undeniable as the lack of parity in the watered-down NBA.

"We've maintained the entire time, this is about standard of play," Battier said. "This is about sharpening who we are as we march toward the playoffs. That's all that matters. The wins have been a great by-product and great copy for everybody and great stories. But it's about our standard of play and improving and building momentum for what is a larger goal for us.

"You've got to remember," Battier said, "we've been dealing with media circuses, some of these guys, for three years now. So this is [just] Monday night. And so I think at this point, our team has proper perspective about what we're trying to accomplish here. Again, great story line, great for the NBA, great for casual fans, but for us, it's about building. It's about improving. It's about ultimately reaching our best basketball in the future. And that's the fun part."

Some unexpected fun in garbage time of the NBA season, a distraction that has a chance to become history.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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