Torrid Heat toast Bobcats as win streak rises to 26
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI — The world’s best came out to see if Miami could do it again. Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s tennis player. Wladimir Klitschko, the world heavyweight boxing king. Rory McIlroy, who sits atop the golf rankings for at least one more night.
And they got quite a show.
The Heat won their 26th straight game on Sunday, with LeBron James going for 32 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in a 109-77 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.
“I think it’s very humbling that you can have some of the greats from other sports come to see your team play, come to see you play,” said James, who was 11 for 14 from the field in another surgical performance. “You try to leave an impression on them, as a team and as an individual, absolutely. So it was great to have them in the building, for sure.”
Chris Bosh and Norris Cole had 15 points apiece for the Heat, who played without Dwyane Wade, held from the lineup because of right knee soreness that the team believes is minor. And after yet another slow start, Miami is now seven victories shy of matching the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for the league record of 33 in a row.
The show now goes on the road for a four-game trip that begins in Orlando on Monday, a swing that also will take the Heat to Chicago, New Orleans and San Antonio. And the Heat will start that trip 2½ games ahead of San Antonio in the race for the NBA’s best record.
Charlotte led by 11 in the early going and was within five in the third quarter, but two huge spurts by the Heat were more than enough to put the game away. Miami used a 31-6 run in the first half to erase the deficit, and a 26-5 blitz in the second half finished the job.
“It was a good professional win and obviously we had a lot of guys step up, guys that hadn’t been getting regular minutes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s good to see, because we will need it. … Good team win.”
Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 20 points, and Gerald Henderson had 18. Charlotte finished the night 5 for 25 from 3-point range, while the Heat was 13 for 30 beyond the arc.
“We ran into some dry spells and we settled for way too many 3s,” Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said. “At the end of the game we had 25 and that’s not who we are.”
James departed with about 8 minutes left, after perhaps the highlight of the night. Chris Andersen blocked a layup try by Walker, doing so with such force that the ball caromed right back into play and basically started a Miami fast break on its own. James capped the sequence with a spectacular dunk, his final points of the night.
Djokovic clapped and smiled. McIlroy — who could lose his No. 1 ranking if Tiger Woods holds on and wins at Bay Hill on Monday — turned toward Heat owner Micky Arison and grinned. Klitschko’s facial expression was one of disbelief.
By then, the only order of business was for some fans to sing “Happy Birthday” to Bosh, which happened with about 3 minutes left. He turned 29 Sunday.
The final score made it look easy, but there were a few frustrating minutes for Miami.
On Friday night, after a third straight game of falling behind by double digits in the early going and not coming out with the sort of energy they’ve grown accustomed to displaying, the Heat said they had to improve on those fronts.
Maybe those improvements will happen Monday.
The Bobcats and Heat played three times during 2012, and Charlotte never led for a single second in any of those contests. The Bobcats did lead by five points when the teams played in Miami this past Feb. 4, but hadn’t held a double-digit lead over the Heat since December 2011.
That is, until Sunday.
Just like Boston, Cleveland and Detroit did before them in the past week, the Bobcats were able to get the early jump on Miami. Charlotte hit eight of its first 14 shots, grabbed a 19-8 lead and had Spoelstra calling a quick timeout.
“That’s kind of been their M.O. lately, they’ve gotten off to slow starts,” Henderson said. “We wanted to come out and jump on them just like the other teams have. Once they got settled in, starting making plays, they got back into the game and we also when on a long drought where we couldn’t score the ball.”
Whatever Spoelstra said in that huddle seemed to be effective.
Miami closed the first quarter on a 15-0 run, taking the lead back on a 60-foot alley-oop by Cole to James, who pointed to the rim and then found a way to catch the long pass from the second-year guard. By the time the Heat burst was over, an 11-point deficit turned into a 39-25 lead — making it a 31-6 swing for Miami, which forced the Bobcats into missing 20 of 22 shots during that stretch.
The outcome was never really in doubt again.
“We’ve been having slow starts,” James said. “But it’s not how we start. It’s how we finish.”
ROCKETS 96, SPURS 95
HOUSTON — James Harden sank an off-balance jumper with 4.5 seconds left to lift Houston to the victory.
Harden scored 18 of his 29 points in the second half as the Rockets rallied from three down in the final minute to snap a four-game losing streak to their state rivals.
Tony Parker scored 23 points, including 10 in a row to put San Antonio ahead with just under 2 minutes left. The Spurs led 95-94 when Harden got the ball from Omer Asik, drove to the free-throw line and hit the winning jumper with Tim Duncan in front of him and Kawhi Leonard behind him.
Duncan missed a jumper from the wing just before the buzzer sounded.
Chandler Parsons scored 20 points and Asik grabbed 14 rebounds for the Rockets.
HAWKS 104, BUCKS 99
MILWAUKEE — Al Horford scored 24 points to help Atlanta rally for the win.
Josh Smith added 23 points and nine rebounds for the Hawks, who trailed 98-95 with 1:05 remaining. Devin Harris added 16 points and Jeff Teague finished with 14.
Smith converted a layup with 33.8 seconds to tie it at 99. After the Bucks turned it over, Dahntay Jones was fouled. He made the first and missed the second, but Anthony Tolliver grabbed the rebound for Atlanta and called timeout.
Horford was fouled with 20.1 seconds remaining and hit both free throws to give the Hawks a 102-99 lead. Monta Ellis missed a 3-pointer for Milwaukee, and Teague made two foul shots to put the game away.
Ellis scored 20 points for Milwaukee, and Ersan Ilyasova added 19 points and 10 rebounds.
TRAIL BLAZERS 83
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant had 24 points and 10 rebounds, Russell Westbrook fueled a key third-quarter spurt and the Thunder pulled away for the win.
Westbrook finished with 21 points and Serge Ibaka had 16 on 7-of-9 shooting for Oklahoma City (52-19), which moved within 1½ games of San Antonio in the race for the Western Conference’s top playoff spot.
Damian Lillard scored 19 points for Portland (33-37), which went 2-3 on a five-game road trip. The Blazers fell three games behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the race for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks was called for a technical foul with 2:53 left in the third quarter and that seemed to spark Westbrook. Portland’s Nicolas Batum made 2-of-3 free throws to tie it at 63, but a steal and dunk by Westbrook started a 10-2 run that put the Thunder ahead 73-65.
MINNEAPOLIS — Nate Robinson had 22 points and 10 assists for Chicago, and Carlos Boozer added 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Luol Deng scored 17 points and Taj Gibson had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls, who were missing Joakim Noah for the second straight game because of plantar fasciitis. They still dominated the boards, 52-32, including 20 offensive rebounds.
Derrick Williams scored 28 points and Ricky Rubio had 15 points and eight assists for the Timberwolves.
Minnesota got as close as five points in the fourth quarter, but the Bulls overpowered the Wolves down the stretch to win back-to-back road games for the first time since Jan. 16-18.
Jimmy Butler added 20 points and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who remained a half-game back of Atlanta for fifth in the East.
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