Two nights after having their streak snapped, LeBron James and the Miami Heat looked ready to start a new run.
James scored 36 points, hitting six consecutive 3-pointers in less than six minutes during the first half, and the Miami Heat rebounded from their first loss in nearly two months to beat the New Orleans Hornets, 108-89, on Friday night.
The Heat, whose 27-game winning streak ended in Chicago on Wednesday, clinched the top seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs. James kept shooting 3-pointers after making his first one with 1:55 left in the first quarter, and he did not miss until he already had set a season high with his sixth.
”It was one of those nights, so I just kept it going,” James said. ”We had a three-on-one break and Mike passed to me, and I stopped for a 3. I hadn’t done that probably since high school or the early years with Cleveland. I felt good. Just tried to keep the Heat wave going.”
James finished with seven 3s – one shy of his career high – as the crowd at the New Orleans Arena cheered louder and louder after giving him a mixed reception before the game.
Dwyane Wade added 17 points and seven assists for the Heat. Norris Cole scored 12 points and Chris Bosh 10.
But James was the show after drawing fire for complaining about what he thought were a couple of unnecessarily hard fouls by Chicago. He shrugged off criticism from the Bulls’ Taj Gibson and Boston general manager Danny Ainge, who said he should not have complained about the fouls on Wednesday, then slammed the door on the Hornets.
”To hear boos during the name announcements and then to turn the crowd around and make it almost like a home game is really humbling,” he said. ”It’s unbelievable to be part of something like that.”
After his fifth 3, which gave the Heat a 42-27 lead, he walked by himself along the side of the court, raising his arm over his head to ask for applause, which he received along with a smattering of boos.
”That was my appreciation,” he said of his gesture. ”I was letting them know I heard them.”
Most of his 3s were face-up shots from a few feet behind the arc when no one challenged him, respecting his driving ability. The last was a pull-up from the side with no space, as if he wanted to find out exactly how hot he was.
Nothing but net.
He finally missed two in a row on the Heat’s next possession, but they were leading 47-27 by then.
”I’m glad I was on the bench,” said Wade, who sat out during James’ torrid stretch. ”I had a chance to watch the show. When any player gets going like that, it’s phenomenal.”
Ryan Anderson had 20 points off the bench for the Hornets. Eric Gordon scored 17, and Al-Farouq Aminu tied his career high with 16 rebounds.
James also hit a pair of jumpers during his hot streak, scoring a season-high 28 points in the first half as Miami went ahead 60-43. His teammates were nearly as hot. The Heat shot a season-best 69.7 percent for any half, hitting 23 of 33 shots, and their 60.9 percent for the game was their highest of the year, too, and the highest allowed by the Hornets.
Miami made 14 of 27 3-pointers.
Miami led by as many as 27 points in the second half, and New Orleans never came closer than the halftime margin of 17. James was content to distribute, throwing a perfect pass to Bosh for an alley-oop that capped a 10-2 run at the start of the third quarter.
”It’s maturity,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Hornets were up 11-9 when rookie Anthony Davis drove the baseline and lost the ball on the way up for what would have been an uncontested dunk. He was called for traveling when he retrieved it on the other side of the rim, and nothing went right for New Orleans the rest of the way.
Bosh banked in a shot unintentionally to tie the score at 11. Wade put the Heat ahead for good with two free throws. Ray Allen sank a turnaround jumper from the baseline. Bosh faked an outside shot and drove for an easy layup.
Miami, coming off the streak-busting loss to Chicago and getting ready to play at Western Conference-leading San Antonio on Sunday, already led 25-15 when James took over.
”We came out with the right mentality, very professional,” Wade said. ”It would have been easy to come out and just lay an egg tonight, but we came out with great intensity and focus.”
New Orleans, playing without starting point guard Greivis Vasquez for the second time in three games, committed 19 turnovers. Rookie Brian Roberts had doubled his career high with 18 assists in place of Vasquez on Monday, but only five this time. Davis was in foul trouble early, scoring 11 points.
The only person in the building who wasn’t awed by James’ performance might have been Hornets coach Monty Williams. Asked if James reminded him of Michael Jordan, whom Williams faced as a player in the 1990s, Williams pointed to the Hornets’ inexperience.
”Jordan played against men,” Williams said. ”LeBron plays against young boys. That’s the difference.”
NOTES: Heat point guard Mario Chalmers missed his first game of the season with a sprained right ankle, with Mike Miller replacing him in the starting lineup. ”His (Chalmers’) injury isn’t a major concern right now, but his ankle is a bit swollen and we want to stay proactive and give him a rest tonight,” Spoelstra said. ”We’ll evaluate him tomorrow.” … Vasquez tried to return against the Clippers on Wednesday but was ineffective, going scoreless and missing both of his shots while playing 28 minutes. … The previous high shooting percentage for a Hornets opponent was .580 by Minnesota on Feb. 2.