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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — With LeBron James by his side in the locker room, Dwyane Wade took a moment to admire Miami’s streak.
“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.”
James and Wade have an NBA championship together, and now they’re chasing history.
James scored 27 points and the Miami Heat became the fourth team to win at least 20 consecutive games in a season, beating the Philadelphia 76ers 98-94 on Wednesday night.
“Wherever the game takes us in those 48 minutes, we’re ready for it,” James said.
For win No. 20, the game took the Heat down to the wire.
All of Miami’s talent wasn’t enough put away a Sixers team revved up like it was a playoff game. The Heat had a 10-point lead early in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough, at least not yet.
Jrue Holiday, the 76ers’ 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 and made one of two free throws for a 92-91 lead. Holiday dribbled the ball into Chris Bosh’s leg, then off his own foot, leading to Wade’s tip for a three-point lead 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.
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.
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.
Up ahead: Friday night against the Bucks.
“We just think about winning the next game and we’ll see where it takes us,” James said.
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 that 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.
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 8½-point favorites 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,” center 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!”
In the end, it was more, 18, 19, 20 and counting for the Heat.
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.”