PHILADELPHIA – LeBron James missed once, then again, whiffing on two easy looks at the rim that could have left Miami shaken.
Like a good teammate, Dwyane Wade swooped in for the saving tip, preserving the lead and keeping the Heat’s amazing win streak rolling.
James scored 27 points and the Heat became the fourth team to win at least 20 consecutive games in a season, beating the Philadelphia 76ers 98-94 on Wednesday night.
Against a struggling Sixers team that was revved up like a playoff game, the Heat just found a way to win.
And when it was done, they took the time to admire their mark.
“Twenty is special,” Wade said. “Win 20 games in a row, it’s awesome. You can’t get around it. We’re going to try to go for the next one.”
Wade scored 21 as the Heat needed big baskets over the final 2 minutes to top the Sixers for the milestone win. He stuck with the ball on James’ misses and scored the clutch tip that made it a three-point lead with 29 seconds left and squashed the Sixers’ upset bid.
“It shows you he, like many of our guys, are just willing to make winning plays at the end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Only three teams have won at least 20 consecutive games in the same season: the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (33), the 2007-08 Houston Rockets (22) and the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (20). The Washington Capitols also won 20 straight, spanning the end of the 1947-48 season and the start of the 1948-49 campaign.
James and the Heat have started to acknowledge just how special this winning streak is in a season that has them running away with the Eastern Conference.
They opened a five-game road trip as 8 1/2-point favourites over the slumping Sixers, a team they’ve defeated three times during the streak. They beat Atlanta on Tuesday for streak win No. 19, then made the flight to Philadelphia that put them in just before dawn.
“You get sleep when you can and do your job,” centre Chris Bosh said.
Maybe fatigue played a bit of a role in Miami’s inability to truly put away the Sixers. Led by Thaddeus Young, the Sixers opened the third quarter on a 16-8 run that helped slice the lead to four. Miami led 71-66 at the end of the quarter.
The Sixers hung around in the fourth, too. Dorell Wright hit a 3-pointer to make it a six-point game and he followed with a steal and fast-break dunk to cut it 82-78. Sixers fans coming to see a slice of history were suddenly rooting for history denied. Philadelphia’s fans started going wild to the “make some noise” sign on the video board and started singing the catchy anthem, “1-2-3-4-5-Sixers!”
Jrue Holiday brought them back with a 3-pointer for an 83-82 lead with 5:26 left and had fans chanting, “Beat the Heat!”
Ray Allen silenced them with a big 3 in front of the Sixers’ bench for an 89-86 lead. Bosh scored to make it 91-89.
It wasn’t enough, at least not yet. Holiday, the All-Star point guard, showed no fear of the moment when he dunked on a leaping James for the tying bucket.
James came right back made one of two free throws for a 92-91 lead. Holiday dribbled the ball into Bosh’s leg, then off his own foot, leading to Wade’s tip after James missed twice at the rim. James drove from beyond the arc and missed from the right side, he put up his own rebound off the back of the rim, and Wade slid in underneath two Sixers defenders for the bucket.
“I miss two gimmes and D-Wade was able to tip ’em home,” James said. “It was just great of him not giving up on the play and putting us up.”
The Heat escaped with a scare — and No. 20.
“When you have a streak like this, you have to have some luck,” James said.
Unless they wear down, there’s no reason to think the Heat can’t keep the streak going toward 33. The rest of the road trip includes games at Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston and Cleveland.
“We just think about winning the next game and we’ll see where it takes us,” James said.
Young had 24 points and 15 rebounds for the Sixers. Holiday had 21 points and Evan Turner scored 15.
“At the end, we just couldn’t come up with that one rebound,” coach Doug Collins said. “I thought we executed, got some shots at the end, and just couldn’t quite find a way to get over the top.”
Fans in Heat jerseys dotted the arena and dozens packed the baseline three rows deep snapping pictures of Miami’s pregame drills. James wowed them with some around-the-back reverses that served as a sneak peek for what was ahead.
James, the reigning MVP, turned the second quarter into his own dunk contest. It helped that he didn’t have any competition.
With flair, James threw down thunderous dunks about every time he touched the ball. His best came on a reverse he brought between the legs that had the sellout crowd of 20,398 “Oooohhhh!” in amazement. His dunk capped a 17-2 run that put the Heat up 10 and helped them cruise toward a 51-39 halftime lead.
But the first half wasn’t all about James’ dazzling dunks. The Heat had 14 assists on 19 baskets and Shane Battier came off the bench to hit a pair of lead-stretching 3-pointers. It’s the kind of teamwork that has the Heat rolling.
“You have to have a unique group that are willing to sacrifice, a unique group willing to keep perspective of what we’re playing for and not get caught up in all the noise outside,” Spoelstra said. “There are so many distractions, not only in this league, but everyday life.”
Spoelstra could talk to Heat president Pat Riley on how to handle the distractions that come with a record winning streak. Riley played for the Lakers team that won 33 straight games. But while the two talk daily, Spoelstra said Miami’s streak hasn’t been discussed. Not once.
Thanks to a fantastic finish, they’ll have another day to bring it up.
Notes: New Eagles coach Chip Kelly had a lengthy chat outside the locker room with Spoelstra before the game. Kelly had previously made a pregame visit with Collins. … The Heat have beat the 76ers 14 straight times. … The Heat missed 15 of 20 3-pointers.