(AP) – Barely more than six weeks after being sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat are alone at the top. That’s what one of the longest road winning streaks in NBA history can do.
The Heat could match their longest one in franchise history Wednesday night, hoping to avoid overtime again to accomplish that feat as they meet the Los Angeles Clippers.
Off to a disappointing 9-8 start, Miami (30-9) was toward the bottom of the East playoff picture in late November. The Heat have since won 21 of 22 overall and were idle Monday when they moved atop the conference thanks to Boston’s loss to Houston.
This is the latest into a season they have led the East since the end of 2004-05.
A big reason they’re in this position is a run of 13 consecutive road wins, one shy of the team record set Nov. 19-Dec. 29, 1996. They will match the league record of 16, set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, if they finish this five-game road trip unbeaten.
The first two stops were far from easy, needing overtime to win in Milwaukee on Friday and Portland on Sunday.
Miami had to overcome a seven-point deficit in the final 2:10 of regulation against the Blazers. LeBron James scored seven points in that span, then added eight in overtime – including two 3-pointers in the final 2:12 – to finish with a season-high 44 in a 107-100 victory.
“You look at games like this and moments like this and you really understand why we decided to team up and come together,” Dwyane Wade said after scoring 34 points for the second time in three games. “I am a fan of (James) on the court and I am just glad I get to experience this in the same jersey he wears, instead of being on the other end.”
James has averaged 30.2 points during the road streak and now visits an arena where he’s 8-1 since the start of the 2006-07 season, including wins in all four games against the Clippers (12-24).
While James has won eight straight against them overall, Miami has lost five of six versus the Clippers at Staples Center.
This matchup may seem like the easiest game on Miami’s trip – the final two stops are in Denver and Chicago – but Los Angeles has won seven of 10.
“It doesn’t matter who we play. I think we have a talented team and as long as we prepare the right way and execute the right way I think we can beat anybody,” budding star Blake Griffin said. “We’re not going to back down or be scared of anybody.”
Griffin notched his team-record 23rd straight double-double Sunday with 23 points and 12 rebounds in a 105-91 victory over Golden State. He’s averaging 24.7 points and 13.8 boards during that run and could present a matchup problem for Chris Bosh, who like Griffin is 6-foot-10 but gives away nearly 20 pounds to the 2009 No. 1 overall pick.
Bosh has averaged 26.1 points and 10.8 rebounds in his last 10 games against the Clippers but has never faced Griffin.
A bigger concern for the Heat defensively could be the Los Angeles backcourt. Of the Clippers’ past eight games, Eric Gordon has averaged 28.8 points in five wins and 15.7 in three losses. Baron Davis had 17 points and 11 assists Sunday as Los Angeles won for fifth time in six games when he’s scored in double figures.
The Heat have held opponents to averages of 90.3 points and 40.7 percent shooting over their last 20 games.
“We’ve developed habits defensively where we feel like we can get three or four straight stops in a row, and that gives you confidence,” coach Erik Spoelstra told the team’s official website.
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