CLEVELAND— Miami’s winning streak was in danger of disappearing — in Cleveland, of all places.
But LeBron James wouldn’t give up.
“That guy right there doesn’t want to lose in this building,” teammate Dwayne Wade said, nodding toward James, who left many angry Cavaliers fans behind when he bolted for Miami as a free agent three years ago. “Not tonight.”
James scored 25 points as the Heat overcame a 27-point deficit in the third quarter and won their 24th straight game, 98-95 over the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night to extend the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.
The Heat are within nine games of matching the record of 33 consecutive wins held by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. Once believed to be untouchable, the mark is now within reach.
James and his teammates have insisted the record isn’t one of their goals, and for more than 30 minutes the defending champions seemed disinterested and on the verge of losing for the first time since Feb. 1. Miami trailed 67-40 with 7:44 left in the third quarter.
But behind the irrepressible James, who added 12 rebounds and 10 assists in 42 minutes, the Heat inched closer to history and matched the NBA’s biggest comeback this season, according to STATS.
“This was one of the most bizarre, unique days of my life with everything that happened,” said James, referring to a homecoming in which a fan ran onto the floor and the opening tip was delayed 35 minutes by a leaky scoreboard. “It also was one of the best comebacks I’ve ever been a part of.”
James had 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in the fourth as Miami rallied to win for the second game in a row. The Heat were down 17 points — 13 in the fourth quarter — and stormed back to beat Boston 105-103 on Monday and surpass the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest streak in NBA history.
“I knew there was a lot of time, so we never panicked,” James said. “We were down 27 with 18 minutes left. That’s a lifetime in basketball.”
Although the Cavs were missing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao — their top three scorers — they pushed Miami to the limit.
It wasn’t until James, playing his fourth game back in Cleveland since leaving, made two free throws with 4.7 seconds left that Miami could relax, but just a little. The Cavs had one last chance to tie it, but C.J. Miles was long with a 3-pointer in the final second, letting Miami off the hook.
Following the game, James stopped to sign a few autographs as he made his way to Miami’s locker room. This was much tougher than he and the Heat could have imagined. The win also completed a five-game road trip, dubbed “The Reunion Tour” by James because Miami visited Wade’s home in Milwaukee, Chris Bosh’s former team in Toronto and Ray Allen’s in Boston.
“The streak wasn’t on my mind, but us getting blown out was,” James said. “I was going to be the only guy to take an ‘L’ on the reunion tour.”
Mario Chalmers added 17 points and Wade had 11 for the Heat, who outscored the Cavs 30-18 in the fourth quarter and 64-40 in the second half.
Wayne Ellington had 20 points and Tristan Thompson 18 for Cleveland, which went from a stunning upset to blowing the biggest lead in a loss in franchise history.
“We knew it was coming,” Thompson said of the Heat’s comeback. “They were the NBA champions last season. They’re not going to lay down. Champions don’t lay down even when they’re down by 27. We knew they were going to make a push. Guys went out and made plays, so you have to give them credit.”
Down by nine to open the fourth, the Heat were up 95-86 with 3:02 left and seemed to have the Cavaliers on the ropes.
But Cleveland bounced back and closed to 96-95 on Thompson’s two free throws with 44 seconds to go. Wade then missed a jumper, but Ellington misfired on a step-back 23-footer with 5.2 seconds to go.
James was fouled and the reigning MVP, with a sellout crowd of 20,562 roaring, stepped to the line and dropped both free throws to make it 98-95.
Miles was contested on his final shot, and once it clanked off the rim, the Heat headed home with a chance to extend their streak to 25 on Friday against Detroit.
This game had a little of everything, including a fan running on the floor in the fourth quarter. The young man was wearing a T-shirt that said: “We Miss You, 2014 Come Back,” a reference to James’ possible free agency and return to Cleveland, where he played seven seasons.
James went out of his way and patted the fan on the head as security rushed him off the floor.
“He said he missed me and come back, please,” James said. “It happened once before in (Madison Square) Garden, so I wasn’t worried. There are metal detectors here, so we were OK. I embraced it.”
The start of the game was delayed because of a spill on the floor caused by condensation from a carbon dioxide container inside the scoreboard.
James scored eight straight points to open the fourth, hitting a 3-pointer to tie it 77-all. He then turned toward the crowd and delivered an icy stare, his way of saying, ‘OK, enough is enough.’
“When he made that one and turned to the crowd,” Wade said, “you knew it was coming.”
GRIZZLIES 90, THUNDER 89, OT
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Marc Gasol tipped in Zach Randolph’s miss with less than a second left in overtime, lifting the Grizzlies to the win.
In a game that had all the intensity of a playoff matchup, Jerryd Bayless connected from the top of the key for Memphis with 3.7 seconds left in regulation to tie it at 83. Bayless had 10 points in the fourth quarter.
After Gasol’s tip over Kevin Durant put the Grizzlies ahead, Russell Westbrook’s desperation shot from past halfcourt was off the mark and Memphis walked away with its 16th victory in 19 games.
Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 24 points and Bayless had 20.
Durant led the Thunder with 32 points, including 15 in the third quarter.
KNICKS 106, MAGIC 94
NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points to lead New York over Orlando after missing the previous three games with a knee injury.
J.R. Smith had 22 points for New York, still short-handed in the frontcourt but looking much better with Anthony back. The NBA’s second-leading scorer hadn’t played since leaving the Knicks’ road trip last week to have fluid drained from the back of his right knee.
He said he felt much better after the morning shootaround and moved much better, shooting 7 of 14 and grabbing eight rebounds.
The Knicks shot 53 percent and won their second straight after dropping the first four games of their five-game trip. All-Star center Tyson Chandler is expected to miss about a week with a bulging disk, and reserve forwards Amare Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas all could miss the rest of the regular season. But New York had no trouble despite using a small lineup that featured 6-foot-9 Kenyon Martin as the center.
Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson each scored 14 points for the Magic in their fifth straight loss. They played without center Nikola Vucevic because of an illness in the second night of a difficult back-to-back, after losing by 22 at Indiana on Tuesday.
New York beat Orlando for the sixth straight time and swept the season series for the first time since 1997-98.
HAWKS 98, BUCKS 90
ATLANTA (AP) — Jeff Teague scored 27 points and Al Horford had 26, taking control after a sluggish first quarter to lead Atlanta past Milwaukee.
Teague scored 11 points in the second quarter and a dozen more in the third as the Hawks pushed out to a 77-59 lead. Horford scored 10 points in the final period and finished with 15 rebounds, stepping up to help the Hawks hold off a Milwaukee comeback.
Led by Brandon Jennings with 21 points, the Bucks closed to 94-90. But Jennings missed a free throw that could have made it a one-possession game, then came up short on a tough jumper with Teague in his face. Josh Smith clinched it by making two free throws with 27.9 seconds left.
Smith also had a double-double, scoring just 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting but helping out with a season-high 16 rebounds. Devin Harris added 15 points.
BOBCATS 107, RAPTORS 101
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Byron Mullens scored 25 points, Gerald Henderson had another solid all-around game and Charlotte beat Toronto to win consecutive games for the first time since mid-November.
Mullens scored 12 points in the fourth quarter. The reserve made his final eight free throws, including four with less than 13 seconds to go as Charlotte won its third straight at home.
Henderson scored 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting and added seven rebounds and five assists, continuing the best stretch of his four-year NBA career. He has scored at least 20 points in five of the last seven games.
Rudy Gay had 25 points and DeMar DeRozan added 19 points for the Raptors, who have lost seven of their last eight in Charlotte and fell to 9-25 on the road.
Ben Gordon finished with 16 points for the Bobcats and Josh McRoberts had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
NETS 113, MAVERICKS 96
DALLAS (AP) — Brook Lopez led Brooklyn with 38 points and Deron Williams had 31 in his first visit to Dallas since spurning his hometown team in free agency.
Williams scored 26 in the second half, repeatedly hitting shots and occasionally assisting on a basket by Lopez to prevent a Dallas rally in the fourth quarter.
Williams also hit a fadeaway jumper after a blocked shot by Lopez, running to his bench with a big smile after Dallas called timeout with the Nets up 97-88 midway through the fourth. The Mavericks didn’t get closer than six after that.
Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 16 points and had a team-high six rebounds, compared to 22 boards for Reggie Evans of the Nets, who outrebounded the Mavericks 45-34.
HORNETS 87, CELTICS 86
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis outreached Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green for a last-second tip-in, and the Hornets snapped a four-game skid.
Davis, who missed the morning shootaround with an illness, finished with nine points and eight rebounds. Ryan Anderson scored 21 points and Eric Gordon had 18 for the Hornets.
Paul Pierce scored 11 of his 28 points in the last six minutes to nearly lead Boston back from a nine-point deficit, but missed a jumper with 16 seconds left that could have put the Celtics up by three.
Garnett, returning from a two-game absence caused by a left thigh injury and the flu, had 20 points — not quite enough to prevent a second straight loss.
CLIPPERS 101, 76ERS 72
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chris Paul scored 19 points, Caron Butler added 14 and the Clippers bounced back on the second night of back-to-back games.
Paul also had nine assists and six rebounds while Blake Griffin had a relatively quiet showing with seven points, nine rebounds and six assists. The Clippers were without Chauncey Billups and Eric Bledsoe, who were sidelined by injuries.
Los Angeles improved to 27-8 at home after losing four of its previous seven, including a night earlier at Sacramento.
Spencer Hawes had 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the 76ers, who have dropped 14 in a row on the road, where they are 6-24 this season.
SPURS 104, WARRIORS 93
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Tim Duncan had 25 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four blocks, leading San Antonio to the win.
Tiago Splitter added 17 points, Manu Ginobili had 16 points and seven assists and fellow reserve Nando De Colo had 10 points for San Antonio (52-16), which is second to Miami (53-14) for the league’s best record.
Stephen Curry had 24 points for Golden State (39-31), which remains sixth in the West. Harrison Barnes added 13 points, Jarrett Jack had 14, David Lee finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Duncan was 11 for 17 from the field. It was his 13th game of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this season.
ROCKETS 100, JAZZ 93
HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 29 points to help Houston improved its positioning in the Western Conference playoff race.
Jeremy Lin added 24 for the Rockets, who currently hold the No. 7 spot in the West. They lead the idle Los Angeles Lakers by 1½ games and are three ahead of the sliding Jazz.
The Rockets led by 19 points after three quarters and withstood a late surge by the Jazz to hold on for the victory.
Utah has lost 10 of its last 13 games. Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 27 points and Al Jefferson added 18 points and 11 rebounds.
WIZARDS 88, SUNS 79
PHOENIX (AP) — John Wall scored 19 points and Washington picked up its first victory at Phoenix in more than six years.
Nene had 17 points and eight rebounds, Kevin Seraphin added 16 points and Trevor Ariza scored 14 for the Wizards, who won for the fourth time in five games. Washington improved to 6-26 away from home, tying Charlotte, Philadelphia and Sacramento for the fewest road wins in the NBA.
The Wizards played without center Emeka Okafor, who missed his first game this season with an illness. Washington snapped a five-game losing streak in Phoenix and swept the Suns for the first time since 2001-02.
Wesley Johnson and Goran Dragic scored 18 points apiece for the Suns, who have lost five of six.