ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Late in the third quarter, the game was tied and the Miami Heat winning streak seemed to be in jeopardy.
Then LeBron James got mad.
And then the Orlando Magic had no chance.
James finished with 24 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, throwing down a dunk to start a huge, swift run that decided everything and the Heat won their 27th straight game by topping the Magic 108-94 on Monday night.
“We are not taking this team for granted,” James said. “I continue to always say that in professional sports, wins are hard to come by and teams like this are really rare. To be part of a team like this, we do not take it for granted.”
That dunk — which came one possession after James badly missed a layup and got frustrated — started what became a 20-2 run over merely a 4½-minute portion of the third and fourth quarters, and it put the Heat in control for good.
He left one rebound shy of a triple-double, feigning disappointment. That’s about all the Heat could complain about afterward.
Mario Chalmers scored 17, and Chris Bosh and Ray Allen each added 12 for Miami, giving Heat coach Erik Spoelstra his 250th win and bringing the reigning NBA champions within six games of matching the Lakers for the longest winning streak in league history, a 33-game run.
“We did enough late in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter to come away with this win,” Spoelstra said. “That was some of our best in that fourth quarter on both ends of the court. … Before that, it was a little bit of a sleepwalk.”
Jameer Nelson had 27 points and 12 assists for the Magic, who got 20 points from Tobias Harris. And Magic coach Jacque Vaughn didn’t exactly seem to think after the game that Miami’s winning streak will end anytime soon.
“I’m far from the expert on that. … That’s a very good ballclub led by a very good player,” Vaughn said. “It’s impressive what they’re doing.”
The four-game road trip for Miami continues in Chicago on Wednesday, followed by a Friday matchup in New Orleans — which snapped Denver’s 15-game winning streak on Monday night. Miami’s trip ends Sunday in San Antonio.
It’s now the second-longest winning streak in American major sports, behind only the Lakers’ run. Baseball’s New York Giants won 26 straight games in 1916, the New England Patriots took 21 consecutive NFL games in 2003 and 2004, and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins won 17 consecutive times in 1993.
“When they got rolling, we had to try to stop them,” said Orlando’s Kyle O’Quinn. “But they got rolling too quick.”
Both teams were missing key components, Dwyane Wade for Miami and Nik Vucevic for Orlando.
Wade missed his second straight contest with a sore right knee, one that he said before the game had been bothering him periodically since March 9 and then flared up after a collision against Boston last week. He had an MRI exam over the weekend to rule out any major problems and plans to play at Chicago on Wednesday.
Vucevic sat his third straight game while dealing with a mild concussion. Vucevic averaged a staggering 22.5 points and 25 rebounds in two games against Miami earlier this season. Compounding the injury issues for Orlando was losing power forward Andrew Nicholson, the team’s first player off the bench Monday, to a sprained left ankle just 1:52 after he checked in for what was the only time.
A 9-2 run early in the third gave Miami what was then its biggest lead, 64-53. Instead of deflating the Magic, it seemed to almost inspire the hosts, who answered with probably their best 5-minute stretch of the game, capped by a 3-pointer by Nelson with 3 minutes left that tied the game at 68-all.
And when James missed a layup at the other end, then got called for a foul after the rebound, Orlando may very well have been thinking that the streak could soon be snapped.
“They’re a great team,” Magic rookie Maurice Harkless said. “They got a lot of different weapons out there. Obviously there’s a reason why they’ve won so many games in a row. They just took it to another level at that point in the game. We couldn’t punch back. They hit us and we couldn’t find a way to hit back.”
Miami needed only 2 minutes to close the quarter with 10 unanswered points, with James doing either the orchestrating or performing. He got loose on a curl for a dunk to start the run, and the Heat took off.
Chris Andersen — the Heat are now 29-1 when he plays — got Miami the ball with a spectacular block against Harkless. James then cleared everyone out to drive on Harkless, score and get fouled for a three-point play.
That was part of a rough few moments for the rookie out of St. John’s.
Harkless threw the ball into the sideline seats on Orlando’s next possession, and James found Allen for a 3-pointer. Harkless had another turnover with 19.5 seconds left and then fouled James with 4.2 ticks remaining. James missed both shots, but got his own rebound, was fouled by Harris and made those two ensuing free throws for a 78-68 Miami lead.
“Any time LeBron gets a dunk, that excites everybody,” Chalmers said. “Makes us play a little bit harder.”
The run didn’t stop there. Allen started the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, pushing Miami’s edge to 81-68 as Orlando’s Beno Udrih — who was 0 for 8 from the field at that point — lay writhing in pain under the basket after apparently being hit in the face. It was injury to insult, at that point. Norris Cole lobbed one off the glass to James for a dunk and an 83-70 lead, Allen made another 3-pointer on the next possession, James set up Andersen for an alley-oop dunk as half the arena roared in delight as the reigning champions pushed the margin to 18.
Streak, not over.