LeBron returns to lift Heat


Associated Press

MIAMI — LeBron James went through a series of tests before the game, all under the watchful eye of the Miami Heat training staff and some coaches.

He passed with flying colors, and looked good as new afterward.

James scored 27 points after a three-game absence caused by a strained right hamstring, five other Miami players reached double figures and the Heat moved closer to securing home-court advantage for the entire NBA playoffs by topping the Philadelphia 76ers 106-87 on Saturday night.

“He knows his body better than anybody,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “So he knew how to pace himself and put his fingerprints on the game.”

Playing only 31 minutes, James made 12 of 17 shots from the field and added five assists and four rebounds. Rashard Lewis scored 14 points, Norris Cole added 13 and Chris Andersen grabbed 15 rebounds — as many as he had in any two previous games this season combined — for the Heat, whose magic number for clinching the league’s best regular-season record was trimmed to two.

Miami moved to 60-16, one win shy of matching the franchise single-season record. The Heat got there after outscoring Philadelphia 29-11 in the fourth quarter.

“It’s special,” James said. “We’ve got a special team. We’ve been saying that all year. We don’t take this moment for granted. There’s not many teams in NBA history that have won 60 games.”

Jrue Holiday scored 18 points for Philadelphia, which got 14 from Evan Turner and an 11-point, 11-rebound night from Spencer Hawes. Dorell Wright and Nick Young each scored 10 off the bench for the 76ers, but Philly’s reserves were outscored 53-28.

“That’s a championship team, a veteran team, so they know how to close games,” Wright said. “But I’m not taking anything from us. I think effort was there. We played hard.”

The Heat were without Dwyane Wade (sore ankle and knee) and Chris Bosh (sore right knee).

A steal and dunk from James with 2:41 left just about sealed the outcome, giving the Heat — who led by just one entering the final quarter — what was then their biggest lead, a 16-point margin at 101-85.

Miami has now beaten Philadelphia in 19 of the teams’ last 20 meetings, including playoffs. In the regular season only, it’s 15 straight wins for the Heat.

“I can’t remember the last time we beat them,” Hawes said.

And while Miami will go into the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 1 seed, a disappointing season for the 76ers is winding down without a single appearance from Andrew Bynum. The 76ers will miss the playoffs, after Milwaukee wrapped up the last of the Eastern Conference’s eight available spots with a win over Toronto later Saturday night.

“We swung for the fences,” Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. “And I give our organization a lot of credit. We went for a home run and unfortunately it didn’t work for us this year. But I will tell you, the guys in the locker room, I’m incredibly proud at how hard they’ve played every single night. We’ve competed and we’ve had some really tough losses but we can only grow from that.”

Spoelstra said before the game that he would carefully manage James’ minutes, and he wasn’t kidding.

James checked out for the first time after playing 7:45 of the opening quarter, his shortest stint to open a regular-season game since October 2010 — his first week of action with the Heat.

Then again, it didn’t seem like the Heat would exactly need much from James at that point.

Miami made its first four 3-point attempts, shot 64 percent in the opening quarter compared with 29 by Philadelphia, and led 33-18 — outscoring the 76ers 20-5 over the final 6:44.

Things flip-flopped in the second quarter.

Philadelphia started dominating from the field (55 percent to Miami’s 30), and a 15-8 rebounding edge that quarter helped the 76ers pull within 50-46 at the break. For Miami, it was a statistically odd half, with the Heat far better from outside the 3-point arc — 8 for 13 — than its 13-of-32 pace from 2-point range in the opening 24 minutes.

“It was a good win,” Spoelstra said. “The guys worked the game.”

Holiday scored 11 in the third quarter, including a 3-for-3 effort from 3-point range, and the 76ers were within 77-76 entering the fourth. But the Heat started the final quarter strong. James found Ray Allen for a 3-pointer with 6 minutes left that pushed Miami’s lead back to 10, and win No. 60 was in the books a short time later.

For the Heat, 60 wins sounds nice, but it’s all about 16 — the number of postseason wins needed to capture the NBA title.

“I don’t think the number matters, the number that you get to, because anything happens when you get to the playoffs,” Allen said. “When you see teams that do have 60 wins, it does incite a little fear, because you know that they were pretty good and consistent throughout the regular season. We hope that plays in our favor, but for the most part, no team cares about what happens in the regular season anyway.”

TIMBERWOLVES 107, PISTONS 101

MINNEAPOLIS — Rick Adelman became the eighth coach in NBA history to win 1,000 games when the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Detroit Pistons 107-101 on Saturday night.

Nikola Pekovic had 20 points and 13 rebounds, and J.J. Barea scored 20 points for the Timberwolves, who surrounded their 66-year-old coach when the buzzer sounded. Adelman grabbed his wife, Mary Kay, and kissed her three times as a video tribute played to honor him.

Brandon Knight scored 25 points and Rodney Stuckey had 20 points and eight rebounds for the Pistons, who have lost 18 of their last 21 games. They turned the ball over a season-high 24 times, leading to 25 points for Minnesota.

HEAT 106, 76ERS 87

MIAMI — LeBron James scored 27 points in his return from a strained right hamstring, five other Miami players reached double figures and the Heat moved closer to securing home-court advantage for the entire NBA playoffs.

Rashard Lewis scored 14 and Norris Cole added 13 for the Heat, whose magic number for clinching the league’s best regular-season record was trimmed to two.

Miami moved to 60-16, one win shy of matching the franchise single-season record. The Heat got there after outscoring Philadelphia 29-11 in the fourth quarter.

Jrue Holiday scored 18 points for Philadelphia, which got 14 from Evan Turner and an 11-point, 11-rebound night from Spencer Hawes.

WIZARDS 104, PACERS 85

WASHINGTON — John Wall scored 37 points in a display of speed and flair to lead Washington over Indiana.

Wall made 16 of 25 shots, throwing his palms up after making an improbable 14-foot sideways runner and flexing his muscles to the fans on the first row after banking in a fast-break layup. He even blocked a layup attempt by Roy Hibbert, the 6-foot-4 point guard rising to swat the ball away from the 7-foot-2 Pacers center.

Wall also had five assists, four rebounds and two blocks for the lottery-bound Wizards, who have won nine straight at home and are 18-4 at the Verizon Center this season when he’s on the floor.

NETS 105, BOBCATS 96

NEW YORK — Deron Williams had 32 points and six assists, and Brooklyn strengthened its hold on fourth place in the Eastern Conference by beating Charlotte.

Brook Lopez added 19 points and backup Andray Blatche had 16 as the Nets completed a four-game sweep of the NBA-worst Bobcats.

Brooklyn moved 1 ½ games ahead of Chicago for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Ben Gordon scored 27 points and Gerald Henderson had 22 for the Bobcats.

BUCKS 100, RAPTORS 83

MILWAUKEE — Monta Ellis had 22 points and nine assists, and Milwaukee secured its first playoff berth in three seasons by beating Toronto.

Brandon Jennings had 16 points and seven assists, while Larry Sanders added 12 points, nine rebounds and six blocks for Milwaukee, which needed a win and a Miami victory over Philadelphia on Saturday to clinch at least the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Heat beat the 76ers, 106-87.

The win was Milwaukee’s 10th straight over Toronto, its longest active winning streak over any opponent. And it pulled the Bucks within two games of the idle Boston Celtics for the No. 7 seed.

Alan Anderson led Toronto with 14 points off the bench, and Quincy Acy had 13.

SPURS 99, HAWKS 97

SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan had 31 points and 14 rebounds to help short-handed San Antonio escape with a victory over Atlanta.

Kawhi Leonard added 23 points and DeJuan Blair had 11 for San Antonio.

The Spurs were without Tony Parker (neck) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring strain), who sat out the game with injuries. They also lost Boris Diaw, who left midway through the second quarter with back spasms.

John Jenkins had 23 points and Mike Scott added 22 for Atlanta, which has lost three straight. Both were career highs for the rookie guards. Ivan Johnson added 14 points, Shelvin Mack had 12, and Johan Petro had 11 points and 15 rebounds.

NUGGETS 132, ROCKETS 114

DENVER — Wilson Chandler scored 21 points in place of the injured Danilo Gallinari to help Denver beat Houston for its 20th consecutive win at home, matching a team record.

Reserve Corey Brewer led the Nuggets with 22 points. Andre Iguodala had 18 points and a season-high 14 assists, while Andre Miller added 11 points and 12 assists as Denver finished with a season high in points while improving to a league-best 35-3 at home.

The Nuggets also won 20 in a row at home from Jan. 9-March 30, 1985.

Jeremy Lin scored 23 points for the Rockets, who lost their seventh straight to the Nuggets, including all four this season. James Harden added 14 points for Houston, which had its four-game winning streak snapped.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

 

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