Updated: March 14, 2013, 1:46 AM ET

1. Twenty, Won: Heat Feeling Strong In Philly

By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The crowd was on its feet as the 1970s-era anthem "Here Come The Sixers" was blaring, with the words displayed on the scoreboard so everyone could sing along, as the Miami Heat squeezed into a huddle to hear coach Erik Spoelstra yelling.

"We have to earn it!" Spoelstra barked while giving a hard stare to his players.

This was a Wednesday night game in mid-March between a team with a 10-game lead on its closest competitor in the Eastern Conference standings and a team playing out the string of a miserably disappointing season that has been wrecked by injuries.

But this Heat winning streak, now at a sparkling and round 20 games after a 98-94 victory, is an apathy killer. It has grown into a full-scale phenomenon.

Dwyane Wade
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsNothing could hold D-Wade from win No. 20.

The Philadelphia 76ers had lost eight of 10, zapping their dim playoff hopes, but they played with the awareness that this single upset would at least generate a smile for the next several months whenever they watched the Heat on TV. Their fans felt it, too. They were wrapped up in it, standing without being asked, as if it were an elimination game.

Over on the Heat's bench, there was a rally being called for even as players felt the drain of playing one of the more demanding back-to-backs of the season. They'd blown a 10-point fourth-quarter lead but they couldn't just brand it a "schedule loss" and shut it down. Not with this on the line.

So the Heat made a few plays, namely a Dwyane Wade putback and clutch free throws from LeBron James, and the Sixers kicked a ball away and missed an open layup. It left the Heat talking about their good luck and Sixers coach Doug Collins talking about how he "couldn't be more proud of the way our guys fought."

A run like this has a way of completely adjusting perspective, and that's what the Heat have now, only the fourth team to win 20 straight in one season in league history. Three of those wins have come against the Sixers, another facet in Philadelphia's season of misfortune. They've played the Heat three times in the wrong 17-day span.

"When you have a streak like this you have to have some luck and you have to win some games you probably shouldn't win," said James, who had 27 points. "But you also have to play very good basketball and you can't panic no matter what is going on."

Over the past three seasons, Philadelphia has been an anti-panic zone for the Heat. The James-Wade-Chris Bosh triumvirate got its first win together at Wells Fargo Center in 2010 after a bad loss in Boston to open the season. They won their first road playoff game together here later that season.

Last year, after a sluggish loss in Milwaukee that stirred up some team-wide frustration, the Heat held a fiery, finger-pointing meeting in Philadelphia that turned out to be a pivot point in their season. They won 12 of the next 13 games and, eventually, the title.

After Wednesday, they've now won 18 of the past 19 games they've played against the Sixers. Yet when the score was tied with 1:20 left there was a feeling of tension, not inevitability.

"Those guys were on a streak and they didn't want it to end," Sixers forward Thaddeus Young said. "And we wanted to end it."

The NBA would prefer you to believe that every game counts and possesses huge potential excitement. But the truth is once you get this late in the season, a certain group of teams start thinking about just getting it over with. As David Stern has said throughout the years, there's only a finite amount of wins to be had.

But Wednesday was an event and not just because the Heat's stars were in town. It was the home team's chance to make a statement and grab the spotlight, maybe the last chance of the season to do so. Now that focus moves to Milwaukee, where the Bucks get the next shot at the Heat on Friday night.

The Heat will continue to try to downplay it. Spoelstra said Wednesday that even though he talks to team president Pat Riley every day, they have yet to discuss or compare what's going on with the Los Angeles Lakers' record 33-game win streak in 1971-72, which Riley was a part of as a player.

Despite that attempt at respecting the bigger picture, what is happening with the Heat is good for the league and, perhaps in the long run, good for the Heat as they start to hone up for the postseason.

"We usually get teams' best shots on the road and now once a team starts sniffing they have a chance to win the game and the streak, they take it to another level," said Shane Battier, who was on the Houston Rockets in 2007-08 when they won 22 straight games, currently the second-longest streak ever.

"So we better match that energy or concentration or it'll be over. Obviously, our goals are bigger but we're going to try to keep this going on as long as possible."

Dimes past: March 1-2 | Sloan/MIT, Day 1 | Day 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8-9 | 10 | 11 | 12

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