Miami Heat's winning streak feels routine

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat won their 22nd game in a row on Sunday. Remarkably, it feels like business as usual.

TORONTO -- "It just happened to happen," Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said.

It is the Heat winning 22-straight games, tied for the second-longest streak in NBA history. It just happens to be extraordinary. It just happened because Miami is overwhelmingly talented, a little lucky and totally in tune.

"It's a special team," said Heat forward LeBron James after beating the Toronto Raptors 108-91 on Sunday afternoon. "It's a special ride right now that we're on and the best thing about it is we're doing it together, we're doing it for one another and we're going to try to keep it going."

As well as boasting the best player in basketball in James and two more All-Stars -- with the way guard Dwyane Wade is playing, you could easily argue that they've had the two best players on the planet over the last six weeks -- the defending champions are a tight-knit group. They know their roles and they know where their leadership comes from. Their goal is another title, not any other accolades. Forward Shane Battier, a member of the 2007-2008 Houston Rockets team they tied at 22, called the streak "a byproduct of playing well."

"We're a team," Battier said. "Ask any guy in this locker room, that's the most important thing about our group. We have the MVP and we have All-Stars and Hall of Famers but we are a team."

Their play screams trust, togetherness. They share the ball, have fun and communicate constantly on both ends. Developing this was a process. They didn't have the same cohesion on offense when they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals.

"At that time, they were just new," said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who served as an assistant coach on that Dallas team. "We caught them at the right time, I thought. I'm not taking anything away from our guys, because we worked hard to get there, but this team now, the ball's zipping, moving, the guys have confidence in what they're doing. That team back then would settle more one-on-one."

Last year they figured out the formula and won a title. Since then they've tried to perfect it while adding crucial complementary pieces to the puzzle.

One such piece is Chris Andersen. Miami signed the big man two months ago for his energy, rebounding and rim protection. On the court and in the locker room, you'd never know he's the new guy. Part of that is being a veteran who knows how the league works, part of it is the personalities of the team's principal players.

"I treat them the same way they treat me, man," Andersen said. "They're real humble, they're real down-to-earth guys. They're laid-back. Everybody always asks me how they are, they're just regular ol' people just like me and you. They don't make it feel that situation at all. They make it feel like it's home. Down to earth, go as free as you want, say what you want to say, be who you want to be. They don't hold themselves higher than anybody else and I think that just makes that real easy for everybody else."

Fans cheered James and Wade as the public address announcer introduced them in Toronto. More cheers came after each of their made baskets and as they left the floor victorious, and a sizable subsection of the crowd trying to get close, hoping for high-fives. Save for games against the Heat's rivals, this is now a regular part of their routine on the road, a phenomenon hard to fathom when they joined forces.

"It's fun," Wade said. "I know we didn't have it in 2010, for whatever reason ... We're not guys who show up the other team, we're guys who come to play the game, we try to do it our way and it's exciting at times and we play hard and we try to get the win. I think fans appreciate that ... We have fun with the crowd at times, we talk back and forth to ‘em, but it is good walking out to ovations from crowds not in your city."

"If you're a basketball fan and you don't appreciate LeBron and D-Wade for what they can do with the basketball, you're not a true fan."-Shane Battier

"If you're a basketball fan and you don't appreciate LeBron and D-Wade for what they can do with the basketball, you're not a true fan," Battier said. "Those guys are just awesome to watch. They play the game the right way, they're unselfish, they play hard, they play to win."

Superstar status and highlight plays mean more to fans than to those focused on winning in June. The same can be said for the streak.

"It's a fun story," said Battier. "There's the doldrums of March and everyone's trying to get through it, so it's a good story for the NBA."

What's amazing about this story is that it did just happen to happen. In the press room at the Air Canada Centre, Miami writers agreed that this isn't the best that they've seen the Heat play. They are suffocating teams when they need to, but sometimes that doesn't happen until the fourth quarter. They're almost always winning handily, but it never feels like they're peaking.

Battier gave a post-game speech to his team on Sunday afternoon, then told reporters that "there's no magic" to his words. There's no trick to making history, either -- this is just a healthy, championship-caliber team that hasn't lost in a long while.

"It's about trying to do something very special with this team," Spoelstra said. "We all want to have gratitude every single day for this opportunity. It's not guaranteed. It is so tough. It is the toughest thing any of us have to do as professionals is to put yourselves in a position to play for a world championship ... If the streak is one of the ancillary benefits for our greater focus, I don't have a problem with that. But I hope there's a deeper feeling to it."

Seems like everybody's on the same page.

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