Heat top Hornets for ninth straight win
LeBron James banked in a runner as he drew a foul, then joined the crowd's roar and threw a fist.
A knockout punch? Pretty much. The basket came during a second-half spurt that turned a close game into another romp for the Miami Heat. They trailed early and waited until the end of the third quarter to make their move, winning by double figures for the ninth game in a row by beating New Orleans 96-84.
Dwyane Wade scored 32 points, topping 30 for the third consecutive game, and Chris Bosh added 23 points and 11 rebounds. The Heat blew the game open with an 18-2 spurt that put them up 94-77.
"This was for us one of the most gratifying wins, because it was a grind-out game," Wade said. "We were able to stick to it until our time finally came."
Wade had an especially efficient night: 8 for 13 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free-throw line. James had 20 points and seven assists for Miami, back home after a four-game road sweep.
"They do the same thing every night," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "Nobody can stop them."
While the Heat roll, New Orleans continues to struggle. With a loss for the second day in a row, the Hornets fell to 3-9 since an 11-1 start. They haven't scored 100 points since Nov. 19, a stretch of 13 games.
"We need to get a win so we could see how it feels," said Chris Paul, who managed only 11 points. David West had 26 points and 12 rebounds for the Hornets, who went 1 for 13 from 3-point range.
The teams split the season series. New Orleans beat the Heat 96-93 on Nov. 5.
"I think they have figured each other out," West said. "They are jelling, playing well together, sharing the ball."
Miami is the sixth team in NBA history to win nine straight games by at least 10 points or more. And James has had a hand in two of those runs - Cleveland was the last team to do it, between Nov. 22 and Dec. 9, 2008.
The 2007-08 Boston Celtics also won nine straight by double figures. The Heat have won nine in a row since Nov. 29, when they shook a slump during which they had lost four of five.
The Heat are having fun during their run. With the victory secure and five minutes left, James slashed into the lane and passed the ball from one hand to the other behind his back - a classic junior-high move that brought a roar. Then he shot and missed, and fans groaned.
James' banked runner made the score 82-75, the Heat's biggest lead to that point. The Hornets then wilted under Miami's defensive pressure, committing five turnovers in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter as the Heat pulled away.
"We put a string of stops together," Bosh said. "That's what's most important for us. Once we do that, we get into the open court and get more easy buckets."
Miami's most jaw-dropping play was a basket by James, who found himself pinned against the baseline with the shot clock about to expire, whirled and launched a jumper from behind the backboard that went swish.
"It's just trick shots we do at practice, just messing around," James said. "You still feel confident about it going in."
Wade, miffed about taking a hard foul from Jarrett Jack, scored 20 points in the second quarter, a Heat record for the period.
"He plays good angry. When he gets that edge to him, he's really good," Bosh said. "It's nice to watch it when you have the same jersey. I've been on the other side plenty of times, and it's not cool. It's cool now."
Only three teams - the 2007-08 Houston Rockets, 2003-04 New Jersey Nets and 1946-47 Washington Capitols - have won 10 straight by at least 10 points, and the Heat will try to match the NBA record Wednesday.
Their opponent for that one? Cleveland, a team Miami beat by 28 points earlier this month in James' much-awaited return to the city he scorned by signing with the Heat this past summer. James scored 38 points in Miami's blowout win at the arena he called home for his first seven NBA seasons.
Notes: The Heat improved to 15-2 when leading after the first quarter. ... The winning streak matches their longest under coach Erik Spoelstra. ... Wade is shooting 61 percent this month. Before the game, he was named Eastern Conference player of week. ... The Heat surpassed last year's December win total. They went 7-7 that month and are 8-0 this month. ... The Hornets had won eight of the past 10 meetings with Miami. ... The Heat had been 0-3 against the Southwest Division.