Heat set to hit the road riding 26-game win streak
MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade's only on-court contribution of the night was grabbing a microphone for LeBron James' postgame interview. Chris Bosh was twice regaled by "Happy Birthday" singing from fans. Juwan Howard got his first minutes of the season.
Sunday was about fun for the Miami Heat.
A much bigger test — a four-game trip that could bring them to the cusp of catching the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers — starts on Monday.
James finished with 32 points on 11 for 14 shooting, 10 assists and eight rebounds, Bosh scored 15 points and the Heat won their 26th straight game, topping the Charlotte Bobcats 109-77 on Sunday night.
The chance for No. 27 comes Monday against Orlando, a team that has taken the Heat to the limit twice already this season.
"It's an opportunity just to treat it as a business trip," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That's what we talked about. This is a business trip. Let's take care of (Monday) night. It's not about the story line. It's not about anything else."
Norris Cole scored 15 points and Ray Allen added 14 for the Heat, who played without Wade, held from the lineup because of right knee soreness the team believes is minor. And after yet another slow start, Miami is now seven victories shy of matching those Lakers of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich — and a reserve named Pat Riley — for the NBA record.
After facing the Magic, Miami will visit Chicago, New Orleans and San Antonio.
"We have to continue to play well on the road," said Bosh, who turned 29 Sunday. "We have some huge challenges ahead of us. A lot of places where you can't just come in and mosey in and think you're going to win the game."
That being said, the Heat have done their share of moseying lately, Sunday being yet another example.
For the fourth straight game, Miami got into a double-digit deficit. Charlotte led by 11 in the early going and was within five in the third quarter, but two huge spurts by the Heat were more than enough to put the game away.
Miami used a 31-6 run in the first half to erase the deficit, and a 26-5 blitz in the second half finished the job.
Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 20 points, and Gerald Henderson had 18. Charlotte finished the night 5 for 25 from 3-point range, while the Heat was 13 for 30 beyond the arc.
"We ran into some dry spells and we settled for way too many 3's," Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said. "At the end of the game we had 25 and that's not who we are."
According to STATS, Miami became the seventh team in the last decade to trail a game by double figures and win by at least 32 points.
James departed with about 8 minutes left, after perhaps the highlight of the night. Chris Andersen blocked a layup try by Walker, doing so with such force that the ball caromed right back into play and basically started a Miami fast break on its own. James capped the sequence with a spectacular dunk, his final points of the night.
Some of the world's best athletes, all seated courtside, didn't hold back their approval.
Tennis star Novak Djokovic clapped and smiled. Golf's Rory McIlroy — who could lose his No. 1 ranking if Tiger Woods holds on and wins at Bay Hill on Monday — turned toward Heat owner Micky Arison and grinned. World heavyweight boxing champ Wladimir Klitschko's facial expression was one of disbelief.
"I think it's very humbling that you can have some of the greats from other sports come to see your team play, come to see you play," James said. "You try to leave an impression on them, as a team and as an individual, absolutely. So it was great to have them in the building, for sure."
The Bobcats and Heat played three times during 2012, and Charlotte never led for a single second in any of those contests. The Bobcats did lead by five when the teams played in Miami this past Feb. 4, but hadn't held a double-digit lead over the Heat since December 2011.
That is, until Sunday.
Just like Boston, Cleveland and Detroit did before them in the past week, the Bobcats were able to get the early jump on Miami. Charlotte hit eight of its first 14 shots, grabbed a speedy 19-8 lead and had Spoelstra calling a quick timeout.
"That's kind of been their M.O. lately, they've gotten off to slow starts," Henderson said. "We wanted to come out and jump on them just like the other teams have. Once they got settled in, starting making plays, they got back into the game and we also when on a long drought where we couldn't score the ball."
Whatever Spoelstra said in that huddle seemed to be effective.
Miami closed the first quarter on a 15-0 run, taking the lead back on a 60-foot alley-oop from Cole to James, who pointed to the rim and then found a way to catch the long pass from the second-year guard. By the time the Heat's burst was over, an 11-point deficit turned into a 39-25 lead — making it a 31-6 swing for Miami, which forced the Bobcats into missing 20 of 22 shots during that stretch.
The outcome was never really in doubt again.
"We've been having slow starts," James said. "But it's not how we start. It's how we finish."
NOTES: Play was briefly delayed in the third quarter because of some power-outage issues involving the scoreboard and game clock. ... The Bobcats needed a police escort to get to the arena from their hotel, since that particular section of downtown Miami also had a large crowd of people clogging streets for an outdoor electronic music festival. ... Heat F Juwan Howard was in uniform, his first time on an active roster since Game 5 of last season's NBA Finals, and played the final three-plus minutes for the debut appearance of his 19th season. He made his only shot.