CLEVELAND, Ohio - Defending champion Miami's epic win streak, the second-longest in league history, rose to 24 games Wednesday but survived a scare from NBA weakling Cleveland in a homecoming for LeBron James.
|Miami Heat's LeBron James (6) puts a shot up over Cleveland Cavaliers defender Daniel Gibson (1) during the fourth quarter of the their NBA basketball game in Cleveland, March 20, 2013. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters.
Down by 27 points in the third quarter, the Heat rallied to defeat Cleveland 98-95 thanks to a stunning effort from James, who scored 25 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, made 10 assists and hit two key-free throws with 4.7 seconds to play.
"We had to dig deep for this one," James said. "We know every team is going to give us a good shot. We know they are going to be trying to take us down. We should enjoy that. We should embrace that. We have to be ready for that."
The game was the first for James at the home of his former club since he won an NBA title with the Miami team he joined after spurning the Cavaliers -- a true homecoming since he grew up and was a high school star in nearby Akron.
"This is a gut performance for our team," James said. "I'm happy my teammates were able to come through for me tonight. This was a big one."
The start of the game was delayed for 45 minutes by a coolant leak on the main scoreboard, adding to the intense atmosphere surrounding the return of a hero now reviled by those same fans who once treasured his every move.
"It's tough when you are ready to go and you have a 45-minute wait," James said. "It's difficult but we are trained professionals. We have to be ready for anything."
When play began, it appeared the Heat failed to notice. Cleveland jumped ahead 55-34 at half-time and began pulling away to start the second half.
"They came out, they got inside our head and built that huge lead. Then they ran it up more," James said. "Then we got a run in the third quarter and started playing Miami Heat basketball."
The Heat made a 20-6 run to end the third quarter and a 15-2 spurt to start to fourth to pull even, then outplayed Cleveland down the stretch to improve the best record in the NBA to 53-14, while the Cavaliers fell to 22-46.
Cleveland scored seven points in a row to pull within 96-95 on Tristan Thompson's two free throws with 44 seconds remaining.
After James missed a jumper, Cleveland's Wayne Ellington missed a three-pointer and the ball went out of bounds. A call that went to video review gave Miami the ball and James was fouled by Alonzo Gee after taking the inbounds pass.
James made both free throws to produce the final margin, but the Cavaliers had one final chance to equalize. C.J. Miles launched a three-point try, but it bounced high off the rim and the spectacular upset bid had been foiled.
Mario Chalmers added 17 points for Miami, which also had 11 points each from Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Shane Battier, and 10 from Ray Allen.
Ellington led the Cavaliers with 20 points, while Thompson scored 18 and Tyler Zeller added 12 points and 11 rebounds for Cleveland.
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