It was a homestand like no other in Heat history: five games; five victories; four nights and one Sunday matinee of LeBron James and the Heat at their absolute best.
James and the Heat seemed to play better with every game and peaked Tuesday with a wildly entertaining 117-104 victory against the Portland Trial Blazers. Miami (35-14) has won six consecutive games overall, eight in a row at AmericanAirlines Arena and 11 of its past 13. If this is what the Heat looks like at the All-Star break, then the rest of the league might be in trouble in the last few months of the regular season.
James, shooting recently with the efficiency of a world-class rifleman, was marvelous again, going 11 of 15 from the field, 1 of 3 from three-point range and 7 of8 from the free-throw line for 30 points, six rebounds and nine assists. James is the only player in NBA history to score at least 30 points in six consecutive games while also shooting 60 percent.
“I know the history of the game and I know how many great and dominant players have come through, through the years, and to be able to have this streak, to be able to have it where we’ve won and to be efficient … it means a lot,” James said of his scoring and efficiency record.
In his past six games, James is 66 of 92 from the field (.717) for 185 points.
“He played a very good basketball game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s leading us, not only with his talent … but his effort plays and those game-changing plays that make him the best.”
Miami needed every point and every play against Portland (25-27), a team that has historically dominated the Heat. Remarkably, the Heat is just 6-18 at home all-time against the Trail Blazers.
The Heat trailed by five points with more than eight minutes to play before turning up the defensive pressure. Led by James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat outscored the Trail Blazers 27-9 to end the game. James’ driving dunk on Trail Blazers reserve Sasha Pavlovic with 4:56 left put the Heat ahead 101-97 and supercharged the arena.
“In the fourth quarter, our guys became electrified,” Spoelstra said.
For the much of the game, it appeared like Portland and its young stars were up for the challenge of playing the defending champs at home. From the start, rookie Damian Lillard showed why he’s considered the NBA’s latest and greatest young point guard. Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge put together one of his best first halves of the season. The Heat trailed by 14 points in the first half before cutting the Trail Blazers’ lead to 59-58 at halftime.
It was an offensive showcase from the tipoff. Miami shot 58.1 percent and Portland was 53.4 percent from the field. Again, James was masterful in the first half, going 6 of 8 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line for 18 points. And Bosh was 7 of 10 from the field in the first half for 16 points and a team-high five rebounds.
Aldridge had 17 points for the Trail Blazers in the first half and Lillard had 18 points on just eight shots.
“If you’re not absolutely alert, they can make you look silly on the other end,” Spoelstra said of the Blazers.
Sparked by James’ overall brilliance, a couple of three-pointers from Shane Battier and an aggressive effort by Bosh, the Heat took control in the third quarter with an 81-65 lead. But Lillard led a comeback with two three-pointers and Portland took a five-point lead with 8:16 left after Wesley Matthews completed a three-point play.
Six players scored more than 20 points in the game. Lillard broke the all-time rookie record for Heat opponents in games played in Miami with 33 points. Marquis Daniels held the previous mark with 31 points. Lillard finished 10 of 18 from the field and 3 of 8 from three-point range. Aldridge had 29 points on 20 shots. Matthews finished with 20 points.
Not to be outdone by James, Bosh was 13 of 16 from field for 32 points in arguably his best game of the season. He also had 11 rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. Wade had a tough night shooting (8 of 18) but still finished with 24 points, going 8 of 10 from the free-throw line. Ray Allen added 14 points and three three-pointers. Battier finished with nine points on three three-pointers.
“This was a good ol’ Eastern vs. Western Conference shootout,” Wade said. “It was back and forth and it was fun. They put it on us and both teams were scoring and shooting at a high percentage.”
The Heat shot 58.1 percent and won the rebounding battle 32-25. Udonis Haslem left the game in the first half with a lower-leg contusion.
An important road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder now awaits the Heat, which is 12-11 on the road. The Heat plays the Thunder on Thursday. The All-Star break begins Friday.
“Anytime is a good time to play them and I know they feel the same way,” Spoelstra said.
“Last year, the five games in the [NBA] Finals did not show how competitive it was. It could have swung either way.”