Column: Streak is history, the question remains

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 28, 2013 at 2:56 am •  Published: March 28, 2013
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But streaks this exceptional are stitched together in the days between games, too, at practices and morning shootarounds, where someone has to be cold enough to point out the flaws, and then respected enough to hold the attention of a dozen millionaires piling up superlatives at every turn. It's then that Spoelstra does his best work, far enough from the cameras and microphones that he gathered less praise throughout the run than almost anyone else on the squad.

"His job isn't just managing talents, it's managing egos," said forward Udonis Haslem, who's been with the Heat since 2003, when Spoelstra was transitioning from the club's video coordinator to an assistant on coach Pat Riley's staff. "He knows there's nights when guys other than LeBron, Dwyane and Chris (Bosh) are going to have to step up. He sees the bigger picture.

"With the success he's had, some guys might say, 'This is the format, the blueprint. We're going to continue this way," he added. "Not Spo. He is serious about that 'Are we getting better?' He almost shames guys into it, because of his work ethic, and because he comes in every day with a thing or two nobody else was even working on before."

Where Spoelstra is going to unearth those lessons now is anyone's guess. Certainly, the Heat have picked up a few bad habits of late: playing from behind early, standing around late and — like the rest of us — waiting for James' spectacular play to bail them out.

Near the end of his session with reporters, Spoelstra was asked about whether the loss had provided closure.

"I think it was important for us to show gratitude to each other for that (streak), but now we have to move on. And it has to be about getting better. We have to own this," he said. "We'll get to that in the next 48 hours."

In that same hallway a half-hour later, James walked out in a natty suit, a wool beanie tilted jauntily to one side and embraced Luol Deng, the Bulls star whose 28 points on the night — 12 in the final quarter — effectively stopped the Heat's comeback cold. They swapped stories and laughs, then James broke away and posed for a few pictures with fans before gathering up some friends and heading for the exit. His laughter echoed back down the mostly empty corridor.

If only for one night, he and his teammates seemed relieved to be out from under the burden, uninterested and unworried about the question, "Are we getting better?"

But only because they knew the one man who can't let it go would be challenging them to do just that a few times before their plane touches down for Friday's game in New Orleans.

___

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at twitter.com/JimLitke

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