LeBron James and company put on quite a show for some of the biggest names in sports on Sunday night.
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James finished with 32 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, Chris Bosh added 15 points and the Miami Heat won their 26th straight game, cruising to a 109-77 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.
The world’s best were courtside in Miami. Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s tennis player. Wladimir Klitschko, the world heavyweight boxing king. Rory McIlroy, who sits atop the golf rankings for at least one more night.
And James responded with another sterling performance, making 11 of 14 shots while helping Miami move within seven wins of matching the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for the league record of 33 in a row.
Norris Cole scored 15 and Ray Allen added 14 for the Heat, who played without Dwyane Wade, held from the lineup because of right knee soreness that the team believes is minor.
After overcoming yet another slow start, Miami begins a four-game road trip in Orlando on Monday, a swing that will also take the Heat to Chicago, New Orleans and San Antonio.
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.
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.
Djokovic clapped and smiled. 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. Klitschko’s facial expression was one of disbelief.
By then, the only order of business was for some fans to sing ”Happy Birthday” to Bosh, which happened with about 3 minutes left. He turned 29 Sunday.
The final score made it look easy, but there were a few frustrating minutes for Miami.
On Friday night, after a third straight game of falling behind by double digits in the early going and not coming out with the sort of energy they’ve grown accustomed to displaying, the Heat said they had to improve on those fronts.
Maybe those improvements will happen Monday.
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 points 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 19-8 lead and had Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calling a quick timeout.
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 by Norris 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 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.
NOTES:Play was briefly delayed in the third quarter because of some power-outage issues involving the scoreboard and game clock. Bosh spent some of the stoppage leading a group of fans in a cheer. … 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.