|Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) stuffs the ball against the New Jersey Nets in the first quarter of their NBA basketball game in Newark, New Jersey, April 16, 2012. Photo by Ray Stubblebine, Reuters.
MANILA, Philippines – The short-handed Miami Heat turned to LeBron James for crunch time heroics and the two-time MVP responded, scoring the Heat's final 17 points as they rallied past the New Jersey Nets, 101-98.
James finished with a game-high 37 points on top of six rebounds and seven assists for the Heat, who were without All-Star guard Dwyane Wade. Chris Bosh added 22 points and 15 rebounds.
The Nets, playing without Deron Williams, led for most of the game but could not stop James in the final five minutes of the fourth period.
James put the Heat ahead for good with a driving lay-up with less than a minute to go, 97-96, then padded the lead to 99-96 with a jump shot with 13 seconds left.
"We know, no matter who we're playing, if it's in Miami or if it's on the road, we’re going to get everybody's best," James said. "No matter the records, no matter what's going on."
"That's why, it's a 48-minute game and we wanted to keep plugging away until we were able to take the lead," he added.
Kris Humphries had 29 points and eight rebounds for the Nets, while rookie MarShon Brooks added 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Trailing 96-99, the Nets still had a chance to tie the game but committed a five-second inbound pass violation.
"I am at a loss for words. I don't know what to say," Nets head coach Avery Johnson said. "Our guys played their butts off. It's a winnable game, but we didn't execute offensively down the stretch."
|Washington Wizards' Jordan Crawford (C) goes to the basket between Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah (R) and Carlos Boozer during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Chicago April 16, 2012. Photo by Jim Young, Reuters.
The Heat improved their record to 43-17 and have a realistic chance of catching the Chicago Bulls (46-15) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with six games remaining on their schedule.
The Bulls made the Heat’s life a little easier after they stumbled to a shocking upset at the hands of the Washington Wizards, 87-84.
Chicago was playing without reigning league MVP Derrick Rose and All-Star Luol Deng, but were still expected to roll over the hapless Wizards who came into the game with the second-worst record in the East (14-46).
Instead, the Bulls got defeated on their own homefloor as the Wizards rallied from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit.
Kevin Seraphin had 21 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, while John Wall added 16 markers.
Maurice Evans sparked the Wizards’ comeback when he scored back-to-back three-pointers in the final period, part of a 13-0 run that put Washington ahead.
Richard Hamilton had a chance to win the game for the Bulls, but his three-pointer was blocked by James Singleton with less than six seconds to go, and CJ Watson also missed as time ran out.
"I challenged them tonight. If we're going to go down, let's go down as aggressive as we can," Wizards coach Randy Pittman said. "I thought to a man we had that tonight. Our defense is pretty darn good."
But Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said "We beat ourselves" after his team committed 17 turnovers and allowed the Wizards to score 20 fastbreak points.
The Chicago players said that the absence of Rose and Deng does not excuse their loss.
"It doesn't really affect us that much, because we have been playing short-handed all year," said Taj Gibson.
Chicago's record now stands at 43-17. They still have a 2.5 game advantage over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference standings.
Meanwhile, the shorthanded Orlando Magic routed the Philadelphia 76ers, with three Magic players logging double-doubles.
The Magic were missing Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis due to various injuries but got strong performances from Ryan Anderson (26 points, 16 rebounds), Jameer Nelson (16 points, 13 assists) and Earl Clark (14 points, 11 rebounds).
Indiana solidified its place as the third team in the East after hammering the Minnesota Timberwolves, 111-88.