PHILADELPHIA -- Expect maintenance of the streak to be this difficult from here on out. Everyone wants to be the team that ends the Heat’s run.
The Philadelphia 76ers were almost that team on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center, ahead by three points against the defending champions with under four minutes to play, but LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade each chipped in big plays in crunch time to preserve the winning streak.
The Heat’s 98-94 victory extended Miami’s winning streak to 20. The streak is now tied for the third-longest in NBA regular-season history.
Only the 1971-72 Lakers (33) and 2007-08 Rockets (22) have had longer streaks during the regular season.
“I welcome my teammates to the 20-club,” said Heat forward Shane Battier, who was on the Rockets team that won 22 in a row. “I’m going to teach everyone the secret handshake when we get on the team plane.”
Hopefully he did it before the plane taxied down the runway. Chances are his teammates were asleep by the time the wheels on the team plane lifted off for Milwaukee.
Home-away back-to-backs are always the most difficult and the Heat was dragging in the fourth quarter but flipping the switch in the final minutes.
Despite the demanding schedule of the NBA, the Heat (49-14) is now 10-1 on the second night of back-to-back games.
“It certainly was not pretty and not the way we necessarily scripted it down the stretch but we found a way to gut it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We pride ourselves on being a no-excuse team no matter what it is, whether it’s a tough schedule or whatever.”
The Heat led by 10 points less than two minutes into the fourth quarter but the Sixers made things interesting with a 17-4 run that gave Philadelphia the lead with less than four minutes left.
Ray Allen’s clutch three-pointer put the Heat back ahead but Evan Turner responded with a tough basket to tie it at 89 with 2:54 remaining. The score was then tied at 91 when Sixers guard Jrue Holiday streaked through the Heat’s defense for a spectacular dunk with 1:20 left.
But that was as close as the young Sixers, coached by veteran basketball man Doug Collins, would come to interrupting Miami’s run at history.
James made one of two free throws with 1:12 left to put the Heat ahead by one point and Wade delivered a critical tip-in bucket with 29.4 seconds to go. James missed a pair of point-blank shots on the play but Wade was there to give Miami a 94-91 lead.
“I missed two gimmies and D-Wade was able to tip it home,” James said. “It’s just great that he didn’t give up on the play.”
Bosh provided important defense during the final two minutes, forcing a pair of turnovers. First, he pressured Holiday into dribbling the ball of his foot with 54.4 seconds left. Bosh then delivered a block with 9.9 seconds to seal the victory.
“I just tried to make a play,” said Bosh, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds in 32 minutes.
James finished with 27 points, going 8 of 19 from the floor. He also had eight assists and seven rebounds. Wade had 21 points, shooting 50 percent from the floor, and had eight rebounds. Allen finished with 12 points and Chris Andersen chipped in 10 points.
“We held on,” Spoelstra said. “You’ve got to give Philly credit. They kept coming at us and you expect nothing less with a Collins-coached team.”
Trailing by three points, the Sixers’ last-gasp effort rimmed out when Spencer Haws missed a reverse layup. Wade pulled down the rebound and then made a pair of free throws to secure the streak.
“We just don’t panic,” James said. “Our main goal is to win a game, not to blow a team out. Wherever the game takes us in the 48 minutes, we’re ready for it. So, if we lose a lead, we don’t panic.”