MIAMI (AP) — For the Miami Heat, July was about putting the roster together. August was about new faces getting to know each other. September was about conditioning. October was about installing systems. November was about growing pains.
And December was about winning.
The Heat were the NBA’s best team in the last month of 2010 by going 15-1, the loss coming by two points to Dallas. In the last 15 years, only one other team has won more in a month — and somewhat ironically, that was LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who matched the league’s single-calendar-page win mark by going 16-1 in March 2009.
So those notions that Erik Spoelstra wasn’t the right coach, that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and James couldn’t successfully coexist in Miami after joining up during the free agent bonanza of July, that the Heat didn’t have the right roster mix to support their star power?
They’ve been debunked. For now, anyway.
“At the end of November, most people were ready to write us off,” Spoelstra said. “But we were able to collectively stick together and try to improve as a group.”
In other words, they’ve become a “Band of Brothers.”
It’s a phrase Spoelstra has used at times throughout this season, and it’s clearly a theme — proven by what every Miami player got from the third-year head coach as a Christmas gift. The book and DVD set of the same title that tells the story of Easy Company in World War II were wrapped and presented by Spoelstra to everyone in the locker room, borrowing on a motivational trick his mentor Pat Riley often utilized when he was on the Miami sideline.
After a 15-win month, something must be working.
“At Thanksgiving time, the walls were caving down around Miami, supposedly,” Wade said in his on-court postgame interview with Sun Sports after his 45-point effort helped Miami win 125-119 at Houston on Wednesday night. “Now we’re in the position now where we inked a little part of history.”
Maybe more than “a little part.”
No other NBA team had ever won 10 consecutive road games in the same month. Only three other teams in the last decade — the Cavaliers (16) in March 2009, Detroit (15) in December 2007 and Phoenix (15) in January 2007 — had won at least as many games overall in a month. And everything that seemed shaky when Miami was 9-8 looks rock-solid now.
When November ended, Miami was third in the Southeast Division, plus a staggering sixth in the Eastern Conference. But entering Thursday, the Heat held a comfortable lead over rivals Orlando and Atlanta in the division and were within just one game of Boston for the top spot in the East. Miami’s 25 wins so far ranked second overall in the NBA, behind only San Antonio.
“Our schedule was very difficult,” James said after Wednesday’s win. “To have 10 road games in a month is difficult for any team. And for us to win every last one of them is a tribute to our game and a tribute to us getting better every day.”
During December alone, Miami — which doesn’t play again until Saturday against Golden State — outscored opponents by 13.3 points per game, winning 11 times by double digits. Among the month’s Heat highlights: Beating the two-time defending champion Lakers in Los Angeles by 16 on Christmas, topping the New York Knicks twice, plus snapping Houston’s eight-game winning streak at home.
Going back to the final game of November, Miami has won 16 of 17 overall since the much-discussed team meeting that Wade called for players only after a loss in Dallas on Nov. 27, the game in which James bumped into Spoelstra on the way to the bench for a time-out.
In some circles, that was perceived as James disrespecting his coach. And then the rumor mill cranked up: Would Riley return to the bench, as he did when Stan Van Gundy resigned early in the 2005-06 season?
Two days later, Spoelstra and James met for about 30 minutes. “Bumpgate” wasn’t a topic. Instead, Spoelstra reminded James of something he said during their first get-to-know-you lunch together in August — that there were going to be rough patches for the Heat, and that they should embrace those moments.
Miami won that night, and has been close to unbeatable since.
“There’s periods of time during any NBA season where it’s uncomfortable, where it’s not necessarily going great,” Spoelstra said. “My staff did a great job of keeping it light. Usually every day they would make some joke about something somebody wrote about me. We didn’t get distracted by it. It didn’t affect my life, I’ll tell you that.”
Not surprisingly, then, nor has the turnaround in the standings.
Miami plays 14 times in January, and the closest the Heat will come to facing a team that would be considered a championship-contender is likely a Jan. 30 matchup in Oklahoma City. The Heat won’t see Orlando — which revamped its roster this month, certainly with Miami in mind — until Feb. 3, and the next Miami-Boston game is set for Feb. 13.
“We’re not there yet,” James said, “and we know that.”
But the Heat seem closer, in more ways than one.
“We’re all in this together,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t spend a lot of extra time thinking about everything else.”