While the Miami Heat continue to chase history, the Detroit Pistons have played like they're ready to close the book on a fifth straight losing season.
Coming off a remarkable comeback, the Heat look for a 25th straight victory while trying to hand the visiting Pistons a 10th consecutive defeat Friday night.
Detroit (23-46) has allowed 107.9 points on 51.2 percent shooting while losing all nine March games by an average margin of 17.6. Facing the reigning NBA champions, who are riding the second-longest winning streak in league history, might provide the defining test to see if the Pistons have enough pride to conclude another disappointing season with some hope for the future.
"If we're going down (to Miami), we better have the belief that we can win," coach Lawrence Frank told the Pistons' official website. "If not, then why go? Someone's going to beat them. Why not us?
"If you allow a losing streak to define you, shame on us."
The Pistons obviously face a tall order against the Heat (53-14), who suddenly are not so far from reaching the NBA record of 33 consecutive wins set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
"(The Heat) have great trust in each other," said Frank, whose team split the first two meetings with Miami. "The way that ball moves from one player to the next, very, very impressive. Defensively, they've always been top shelf. They combine great athleticism, effort, technique, commitment to scheme. You know what they're going to do and it doesn't matter because they put great effort and intensity into it."
Miami displayed that Wednesday by rallying from a 27-point third-quarter deficit to win 98-95 at Cleveland. LeBron James scored 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and added 12 rebounds with 10 a.ssists, and Miami outscored the Cavaliers 64-40 in the second half to complete the largest comeback in the NBA this season.
The Heat rallied from 17 down to win 105-103 at Boston on Monday.
"It's been two games in a row where we got off to the type of start that we didn't want to," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That's because we've been playing on our heels and catching teams (who are playing) more aggressive."
With a major NBA milestone in sight, the Heat can't afford a letdown while in the midst of a stretch against the Eastern Conference's four worst teams.
Miami lost 109-99 at Detroit on Dec. 28 with Dwyane Wade serving a one-game suspension, but won 110-88 at home Jan. 25. Three of the Heat's four straight home victories over the Pistons have come by at least 22 points.
The Heat have averaged 108.7 points and shot 51.4 percent while winning 15 straight overall at home by an average margin of 11.8.
Losers of six straight on the road, the Pistons are mired in their longest overall slide since dropping 11 in a row March 13-April 3, 2010. Will Bynum scored 18 off the bench Monday against Brooklyn and Greg Monroe added 17 but had six turnovers in a 119-82 loss.
It's the third time this month Detroit has lost by 32 or more points.
"We've got to f!ght a whole lot harder," said Frank, who returned after missing six games to be with his ill wife. "It's OK if you have a couple games like this in a season, but this has been going on since the (All-Star) break."
Monroe scored 31 points at Miami in January.
James, who scored 35 at Detroit this season, has averaged 28.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 9.3 a.ssists while posting four straight double-doubles.
Q: There should be a place in the Hall of Fame for superior role players like Shane Battier. It is amazing that he played a role in two of the three longest winning streaks in NBA history. -- David.
A: The league has tried to reward such contributions with the Sixth Man Award, but that tends to go to someone with gaudy statistics off the bench, someone who often is anything but a complementary player, but rather a leading man masquerading as a reserve. Shane deserves something more along the lines of the Sixth Sense Award, providing whatever is needed at the moment, be it a key rebound, timely defensive stop, or game-changing 3-pointers, as was the case in Wednesday's remarkable comeback victory in Cleveland. His type of player rarely gets his due. But his type of personal rarely demands any due.
Q: Teams exert a lot of effort trying to bully the Heat around, especially on boards. But it seems, much like Ali, that the Heat can toy around, stay in the game, and then go full force sometime in the second half, no matter the opponent. -- Bobby, Lincoln, Neb.
A: Exactly. It's almost fascinating to watch as opponents start to realize that the tough-guy routine is not having its desired impact. The Heat might not be bigger or stronger than many opponents, but they are faster and more athletic. And while opponents may claim superior depth, the Heat's depth of talent eventually wears down the opposition. Wednesday was yet another game when the Heat were outrebounded, this time 42-34, yet found a way.
Q: Could someone ask LeBron what he calls that "pressed-down" move he makes when he hits a clutch shot? -- Nadine.
A: It's his tribute to former journeyman point guard Nick Van Exel, who used to do it when he made big shots. LeBron has been doing it for weeks now, amid his increased proficiency with his mid-range jumper, including Monday's game-winner with 10.5 seconds left in Boston. The one thing about LeBron is that he is very aware, and respectful, of those who can before him in the game.