The dunks were almost identical both in style and attitude. LeBron James was mad to begin the fourth quarter in Charlotte on Saturday night, and he was hellbent on bending some rims.
And so he attacked and dunked and screamed on back-to-back plays on this back-to-back set of games in January at Time Warner Cable Arena. James’ baseline dunks to begin the fourth quarter were meant to awaken his team, which had once again slipped into championship hibernation, but it would ultimately take an extra period of basketball to bring out the best in the Heat.
Miami defeated Charlotte 104-96 in overtime to stave off another upset to another Eastern Conference team with a losing record. The Heat (29-11) hasn’t played its best basketball recently, no, but it doesn’t take much to be the unquestioned leader of the Southeast Division. Miami is now 9-1 against teams in its division. The Heat has now won 15 in a row against the Bobcats, which matches the longest active winning streak in the NBA. The Spurs have won 15 in a row against the Wizards.
Led by James, the Heat outscored the Bobcats 14-6 in overtime. A driving layup by the back-to-back MVP with 1:22 left gave the Heat a 100-95 lead, and James finished the game with another driving attack with 36 seconds remaining.
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He scored 34 points, going 8 of 10 from the free-throw line, and had eight rebounds and six assists.
“That sparked us, but that’s who he is,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of James’ dunks. “Great players become great.”
James began the game 5 of 5, then missed nine consecutive shots before the baseline dunks.
“I came out shooting the ball extremely well and I just hit a cold streak, but my teammates kept confidence in me,” James said.
Dwyane Wade missed his 10th game of the season to rest his knees, but Ray Allen performed well as a starter. A jumper by Allen with 2:40 left in overtime gave the Heat a 96-93 lead. It was a clutch basket for Allen, who has been struggling with his shot for nearly a month.
“He still had a great impact on the game, and he still made plays,” Spoelstra said. “He used his floor game again, and in the second half he was better defensively. All he needs is one to go, but that won’t stop us from feeding him.”
Allen went 5 of 11 from the field and 1 of 5 from three-point range for 12 points and added nine rebounds. He has made four three-pointers in the month of January.
James made a pair of free throws with 2:02 left in overtime to give the Heat a three-point cushion before his pair of driving layups. James equaled the Bobcats in scoring in overtime with six points. Charlotte went 1 of 5 from the field in the extra period.
Oden plays again
Greg Oden played for the second time in three games but didn’t contribute much in his five minutes. He went 1 of 2 from the free-throw line and committed three fouls.
“Anytime he’s out there and giving us minutes — I don’t care how many minutes it is — it’s a big victory,” Spoelstra said. “So, it’s great to see.”
The Heat didn’t play much defense in the first half but increased the effort after halftime and only allowed 30 points in the third and fourth quarters. The Bobcats led 60-53 at the break after shooting 60.5 percent from the field in the first half.
“We talked about it, but nobody was happy about it,” Spoelstra said. “We were giving up 60 percent, they scored over 60, we had just talked about how much pride we want to show in our defense, and that’s not discrediting them … but we [were] all upset about it, and we wanted to walk our talk.”
James’ 20-foot jumper with 3:45 left gave the Heat a 90-88 lead, but the Heat went scoreless over the remaining possessions of regulation. A layup by Al Jefferson tied the game with 3:18 to play. From there, the teams combined to 0 of 8 in the final three minutes.
Chris Bosh had 25 points, giving him at least 25 points in three consecutive games. Udonis Haslem had six points and 10 rebounds. Mario Chalmers scored nine points to go along with five assists, five turnovers and two rebounds.
The game took a somber turn with 7:55 left in the third quarter when Kemba Walker turned his ankle during a driving layup attempt. Walker stepped on Bosh’s foot and immediately went down in pain. Teammates carried the Bobcats’ star point guard off the court, and the team announced later that he had sprained his ankle.
Jefferson led the Bobcats with 22 points, and Ramon Sessions had 16 points off the bench. Walker scored six points before being helped off the court.