February belongs to Heat
MIAMI – LeBron James might be a few weeks ahead of the actual calendar, but he offered one reason why the Miami Heat tend to enjoy February surges.
“Springtime, in our league, is the best time,” James said.
At least, that’s seems to be case for James and the Heat.
With one game left on their schedule before March arrives, the Heat are an NBA-best 11-1 during the second month of 2013. And that extends a trend that started when James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh became teammates nearly three years ago – they were 9-3 in February 2011, 11-2 in February 2012 and are 11-1 this month going into a home game Tuesday with Sacramento.
After the month started with a 102-89 loss at Indiana, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said “We have to get better” in his postgame interviews that night. His team has ripped off 11 straight wins since.
“You’ve got to play your best basketball at this time of year, February and March and obviously in April going into the stretch,” Wade said. “We would love to play amazing all year, but in the beginning of the season you’ve got to figure things out. It’s a new year, there’s other teams that have new parts, they got better. And then when it comes down to winning team, a veteran team, you have to have everything figured out.”
Combined over their past three Februarys, the Heat are 31-6, the NBA’s best record in that span.
With a win today, Miami would become the first NBA team since 2008 to post at least 12 victories in February. Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers both won 13 times in February 2008, the Rockets doing so in unbeaten fashion.
“It’s extremely tough keeping up the level of play. But that’s something we have to overcome,” Bosh said. “We said that this year is totally different from last year. It’s a lot more difficult to keep it up. We just have to keep on pushing. I think the fact that we’re on each other and our urgency is so high, that’s really helping us. ... It’s been a process. We still have a lot more to go. As long as we continue to grow, we’ll be right where we want to be.”
By any measure, the Heat have hit the accelerator this month and pulled away from the Eastern Conference.
After games of Feb. 1, Miami’s lead in the East was a mere half-game over the New York Knicks. But entering Monday’s games, the Heat led Indiana by six games and the Knicks by 6½ games in the race to be the No. 1 seed in the East.
There’s no magic formula for it, Spoelstra said.
“There’s simply more effort, more focus, more commitment,” Spoelstra said. “Sometimes it comes down to those basic things.”
Then again, there are two statistical reasons why as well – namely James having perhaps the best month of his career, and Wade feeling as good as he has at any point this season.
Assuming James does not shoot 0-for-15 against the Kings, he will finish a full month with a shooting percentage of better than 60 percent for the first time in his career – plus will likely win his fourth straight East player of the month award.
He often says that he brings the same focus into every game, no matter the stakes. But clearly, the reigning MVP has raised his game of late.
“I do try to approach the game the same way each and every game, don’t try to get too high or too low,” James said. “I approach it with intensity and focus, but I understand certain games are different and certain times of the year are different, too. I can’t sit here and say a February game is the same as an October game. I’m not going to sit here and say that. But it’s good to be in a situation where we can play ball at the right time of the season.”
Wade is averaging 22.7 points in February, putting him on pace for his highest-scoring full month of the season, one that started with him trying to work back into form after offseason knee surgery kept him out of the Olympics.
Wade has been particularly good of late: He made 25 of 40 shots over the weekend, first leading the Heat past Philadelphia on Saturday and then saving Miami with some fourth-quarter heroics in a blow-a-big-lead-then-come-back win over Cleveland on Sunday.
“I’m as good as I’m going to be,” Wade said. “We talked about all summer that February would be the time, kind of when I started feeling very well.”
Same goes for the Heat, apparently.
Miami is shooting nearly 52 percent for the month and averaging 105 points per game, with seven double-digit wins in its last eight games. The lone exception was Sunday, when the Heat blew a 22-point second-half lead against the Cavaliers before rallying from an eight-point hole in the final five minutes.
“This is when we make our mark, become legends or whatever the case may be,” James said. “This is the best time of the year. We understand that spring is on its way and we’re gearing up for it. We’re playing some really, really good ball right now as a team.”