LeBron James arrived at work a little earlier than usual on Tuesday, warming up more than three hours before tip-off with hopes of finding his rhythm.
With Dwyane Wade out, Miami needed some extra offense — and James delivered.
James scored 14 straight Miami points in the fourth quarter and finished with a season-high 41, helping the Heat clinch a playoff spot with a 99-93 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
It was the 16th straight home win for Miami, which has won its last 11 regular-season games against the 76ers. The Heat also moved within 2 1/2 games of Chicago in the race for the Eastern Conference’s best record.
”It was a grind,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”No question, it was a grind.”
Mario Chalmers had 19 points, Chris Bosh scored 17 and Udonis Haslem grabbed 11 rebounds for Miami, which improved to 9-1 without Wade this season. Wade sat with a bruised left knee, leaving his status for Wednesday’s showdown with Oklahoma City in some doubt.
Evan Turner scored 26 points for Philadelphia, which fell 1 1/2 games behind Boston in the Atlantic Division. Lou Williams scored 18, Spencer Hawes added 12 and Andre Iguodala had 11 before leaving in the third quarter with a left eye contusion.
It was just the fourth time in 24 games this season that the 76ers shot at least 45 percent and lost.
”We got right there. … We just couldn’t get over that hump,” Williams said.
James scored 21 points after Iguodala – who was the primary defender on him – departed with 4:42 left in the third quarter. Iguodala was holding the ball as Chalmers tried swiping it away, but only wound up connecting with the face of the 76ers’ guard. Iguodala went to the floor in pain, holding the area around his left eye, then eventually made his way to the Philadelphia bench and locker room with part of his face covered by a towel.
”I thought my eye was gone,” Iguodala said. ”It was hurting really bad. I had a really bad headache for about 10 minutes.”
When Iguodala left, Miami led 68-64. Soon, the Heat had their biggest lead. James had six points in a quick 8-2 spurt that pushed Miami’s edge to 76-66 with 2:23 left in the third.
Midway through the fourth, the 76ers said Iguodala had a left eye contusion and his return was questionable.
Williams’ jumper with 2:27 left got Philadelphia within three, the closest margin since early in the third quarter.
But James made a pair of jumpers, and then came, as he put it, ”probably the biggest play of the game.” He missed a fadeaway, and Shane Battier — who started in Wade’s place — sprawled out to control the rebound and extend Miami’s possession.
A few seconds later, Chalmers found James for an alley-oop dunk that put the Heat up 92-85 with 1:27 left and all but sealed the win.
”Right after it happened, I went straight to Shane and told him it was a huge play,” James said. ”It was a big play. The dunk, it was the easy part, honestly.”
Besides the Battier-for-Wade move, the Heat made another change to the starting lineup, with Ronny Turiaf starting at center over Joel Anthony.
Before the game, Sixers coach Doug Collins lamented how his team had the misfortune of playing Miami twice already this season in games immediately following Heat losses. And in both of those games, Miami made statements – winning 99-79 on Feb. 3, then running out to a ridiculous 57-30 halftime lead on March 16 before escaping with an 84-78 victory.
And with the combination of the loss in Boston on Sunday, and the looming Wednesday game with Oklahoma City, Collins figured the Heat would try to put the 76ers away early.
Of course, when he said that, he also thought Wade would be playing.
Philadelphia led 54-51 at the break, then lost the lead for good while being outscored 25-16 in the third quarter. It was Miami’s biggest third-quarter win since outscoring New York 29-19 in that period on Feb. 23.
”To start the third, we were careless,” Collins said. ”We turned the ball over. We didn’t have the crisp passing that we had during the first half.”
NOTES: Heat President Pat Riley was sitting with actor Michael Douglas, a longtime close friend. … It was milestone night for the Heat. Chalmers got his 1,000th career assist, Turiaf got his 500th career block, and Haslem passed Alonzo Mourning for No. 1 on the franchise list in defensive rebounds. … Philadelphia won the first 11 meetings with the Heat. Miami has now won the last 11 regular-season matchups between the clubs, 15 out of 16 when adding in last year’s opening playoff round. … Tuesday’s game was the 110th Wade has missed because of injury in his career.