Heat Check: Miami’s defense clamps down, snaps three-game skid

Winless halfway through a string of six road games, the Miami Heat faced a crucial test at Philadelphia on Friday night.

Would the Heat drop a fourth straight game for the first time in three years? Would Miami’s defense again be exploited for 100 or more points? Would the Southeast Division leaders look tired and out of sync or display the mettle of two-time defending champions?

The answers: No, no and the latter.

Playing quality defense from the start, the Heat earned a 101-86 victory against the 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.

A win at Charlotte on Saturday night likely will erase any questions or concerns about this team built for the playoffs — at least for now. Then again, a loss to the Bobcats would make it four defeats in five games, but the Heat surely earned 21 hours of peace after starting strong, never trailing and leading by as many as 25 points against Philadelphia.

The win came after losses at New York, Brooklyn and Washington, where the Heat trailed by as many as 34 points on Wednesday night.

Miami held the Sixers (13-26) to 36.9-percent shooting and forced 23 turnovers.

Chris Bosh scored 25 points and LeBron James added 21 for the Heat (28-11). James also had 8 rebounds and 10 assists. Greg Oden, who played in his first NBA game in four years at Washington, did not play. Point guard Mario Chalmers (10 points, 5 assists) returned to the lineup after missing four games with a sore Achilles’ tendon.

Heat 101, 76ers 86

Backup Norris Cole contributed 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, three assists and no turnovers. His 11 points played a big part in Miami opening its first-half cushion, as did three 3-pointers from Shane Battier (13 points).

Dwyane Wade, celebrating his 32nd birthday, finished with 8 points on 3-of-6 shooting. His first field goal came with 7:16 left in the third quarter. Ray Allen’s shooting slump continued as he was 1-of-7 from the field. He’s 9-of-52 (17 percent) and 3-of-29 from 3-point territory over the last eight games.

Miami, which lost 114-110 at Philadelphia on Oct. 30, led 58-41 at halftime. The Heat were 6-of-12 from 3-point range. The Sixers were 1-of-13 in the first 24 minutes.

The turning point: There really wasn’t a turning point as Miami took control from the opening tip, led by 10 after one quarter and 17 at halftime.

The difference maker: Bosh, besides scoring 25 points, had six rebounds, four assists and five blocks — the most rejections he’s had since joining the Heat.

Stat of the game: Miami held the Sixers to 2-of-20 from behind the 3-point arc.

What’s next: The Heat play the fifth of six straight road games when they visit the Charlotte Bobcats at 7:30 p.m Saturday.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.