The NBA has 30 teams, and 29 of them have the same nightmare.
The championship the Miami Heat won last year? An opening act. A prelude to frightening things as yet unseen. Like complete dominance, this year and for many more to come.
In their second season together, Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stormed to the 2012 NBA title. It was an impressive run, and the rest of the league silently hoped the Heat would now grow fat and happy and begin to lose their edge.
It has not happened. The Heat are playing the best basketball in the NBA. They have an 18-game winning streak, which apparently has not particularly impressed them. "Our goal isn't to win games consecutively," James said. "It's to win a championship."
The Heat had plenty of talent from the moment James and Bosh took their talents to South Beach to join Wade. But now they have additional experience, cohesion and a killer instinct.
Their average margin of victory during the 18-game streak has been 11.1 points. There was an odd one-point victory against the Orlando Magic and a still odder overtime victory against the Sacramento Kings. Otherwise? They are overpowering the league.
Earlier in the season they lost their first two games to both the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. In this streak they have come back to defeat both, pounding the Pacers 105-91 on Sunday despite James scoring only 13 points.
The Heat are better than they were last season because of the addition of the three-point specialist Ray Allen and the maturation of the point guard Mario Chambers.
"When you can win like this, we can go home, we can breathe easier, food tastes better, it makes life a lot better," Allen said.
The Heat's 18-game surge is the seventh-best in league history, and matches the longest streak ever accomplished by Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.
When a great team gets on a streak like this, attention naturally shifts to the NBA record of 33 consecutive victories set by the Jerry West-Wilt Chamberlain Los Angeles Lakers in 1971/72. Pat Riley, the Heat president, was also on that team. The Heat claim not to have "33" in their sights.
"I'm not disrespecting it, but no, it's not something on our radar," their coach Erik Spoelstra said. They are focused only on another title. The second in a series.
And time could be an ally, not an enemy. James and Bosh are 28; Wade just turned 31.
"Right now, I don't think about the streak," Wade said.
"We just come in and take care of business. We're not in here talking about how we're on this streak and want to keep winning. We're just working."
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