The Heat escaped some close calls against teams with losing records during its franchise-best winning streak.
On Wednesday night, LeBron James delivered a sweet finish to win No. 16 in a row.
James drove to the basket and delivered a left-handed layup in traffic with 3.2 seconds left to help the Heat pull out a 97-96 comeback win over the Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena.
It was Miami’s first one-point win of the season and 12th in a row at home.
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The Heat’s victory extended its winning streak to 16, moving it into a tie with seven other teams for 18th on the all-time list of longest regular-season winning streaks.
The Heat also tied the 1964-65 Boston Celtics for longest winning streaks by a defending NBA champion.
The streak is the second-longest this season behind the Clippers, who won 17 in a row from Nov. 28 to Dec. 30.
It was the Heat’s fourth victory against a sub-.500 opponent by five points or less during the streak.
James had just missed a pair of three-pointers a minute earlier that could have tied the score.
James said he was determined not to miss a third time.
“I was just trying to be patient and see if I could penetrate to the hole and I was able to do that and finish,” James said. “I had just settled for two threes before that so there was no way I was going to shoot another jumper on that play.”
James’ game-winner came moments after Al Harrington missed a three-pointer that could have made it a two-possession game. The officials granted the Heat a timeout with 12.6 seconds left, although it appeared at first Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did not want the timeout.
“It was a miscommunication with the officials,” Spoelstra said. “I had told them if [Orlando] makes it we’re calling timeout. They missed, but he assumed we wanted one. Those things happen so we just went with it. We called a high pick-and-roll with Chris [Bosh] and LeBron. He didn’t get the initial option, so he spaced it, drove it and jumped over everybody, and put it in with his left hand.”
“On that last play [James] said I’m not letting you off the hook, I’m going to make something happen,” Spoelstra said “I thought it was right decision we weren’t aggressive enough in the second half. It’s not easy to get to the rim and get into paint free throw line.”
Shane Battier also drew a charge that nullified a basket by Tobias Harris with 52 seconds left that could have also put the Heat behind by five with 52 seconds left.
James finished with 26 points and Dwyane Wade had 24 to help the Heat (45-14) survive its second nail-biter against the Magic (17-45) this season, having won an overtime thriller in Orlando on Dec. 31.
Chris Bosh finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but again had his hands full with Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who had 21 rebounds and 25 points.
It was the second-best rebounding game of Vucevic’s young career. The best was 29 against the Heat in the first meeting, which was also the most rebounds the Heat had ever given up to a player.
“He should play every game against us,” Spoelstra said. “He’s physical and skilled and he pounded us on the glass. He looked awesome out there.”
Vucevic missed the final moments of the game, however, after fouling out with 38 seconds left. Bosh drew the final foul and made two free throws to cut the deficit to 96-95.
The Heat appeared to have the game in control taking a 20-point lead a minute into the third quarter.
The Magic then turned the momentum outscoring the Heat 46-21 and eventually taking a 86-81 lead with 8:29 left in the fourth.
“We relaxed and got a little complacent and didn’t play our game for long stretches of time,” Spoelstra said. “They made shots and got into a comfort zone. Give them credit. They took advantage of every opportunity.”