April 7, 2013

LeBron James returns, leads Miami Heat over 76ers

LeBron James returned to the court Saturday night after missing three games to help the Heat roll to its 60th win of the season.

That LeBron James guy, he should play more often.

Competing in his first game in the month of April, James led a dominant run in the fourth quarter and the Heat defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 106-87 on Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena. The playoffs can’t get here fast enough for the Heat, but until then the team can bide its time doing things like defeating the Sixers for the 15th consecutive time.

The next milestone for the Heat (60-16) can come on Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, which will likely be the Heat’s opponent in the first round of the playoffs. A victory against Milwaukee will tie the Heat’s franchise record (61) for wins in a regular season.

James sat out three games in a row with a tight right hamstring but returned against Philadelphia with a smoothness as if he had never been away.

He finished with 27 points, going 12 of 17 from the field, and had four rebounds and five assists in 31 minutes of work. The reduced minutes will likely continue for James for the rest of the regular season.

“I wasn’t limited at all,” James said. “I wasn’t going to come back until I knew I was ready. I felt good the last couple of days, so I gave it a go.”

The Heat has six games remaining in the regular season with a magic number of two to earn the best record in the NBA.

James apparently asked for more minutes against the Sixers, which is a good sign that the heaviness in his legs has lifted, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra rebuffed the Heat’s star.

“There was no restraint on my part, just selective hearing,” Spoelstra said.

James did enough with the time he was given, though. He reentered the game with 7:47 left in the fourth quarter and that’s when the Heat began to pull ahead. From there, the Heat outscored the Sixers 21-5 to end the game. Miami led the Sixers 77-76 entering the final period before outscoring Philadelphia 29-11 in the fourth quarter.

A three-pointer by Ray Allen with 7:07 left in the game put the Heat ahead 88-82 and Allen made another from behind the arc about a minute later to give Miami a 10-point advantage. Allen, after missing Friday’s game with a sore ankle, was 3 of 3 from three-point range to lead the Heat in sharpshooting. Mario Chalmers also had three three-pointers. Overall, Miami was 14 of 25 from three-point range and over its last two games has made 27 behind the arc.

The Heat’s bench made nine three-pointers, which was three more than the Sixers’ entire team.

Heat reserve Chris Andersen had a season-high 15 rebounds in less than 26 minutes. It was his second night in a row to set a season high for boards. Against the Bobcats on Friday, Andersen had eight rebounds.

“What you always knew about him was the pursuit,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a great in traffic, two-handed rebounder. … He got a few that weren’t necessarily in his region and those are playoff rebounds.”

Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 18 points, going 7 of 11 from the field. Evan Turner had 14 points, five rebounds and five assists. Spencer Hawes had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Rashard Lewis put the Heat ahead 80-76 with a three-pointer to begin the final period, but the Heat didn’t pull away until James subbed into the game. Turner, who left the game briefly in the third quarter with a leg injury, returned with 9:41 left in the fourth despite a noticeable limp.

Lewis drilled another three-pointer 30 seconds later to give him 14 points. It was his second night in a row to score in double figures despite moving to the bench on Saturday for James’ return to the lineup.

It has been a disappointing season for the Sixers (31-45), which will likely miss the playoffs after losing to the Heat in the first round last season. Philadelphia signed Andrew Bynum in the offseason in the hopes of challenging the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but Bynum never played because of a series of injuries.

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