ORLANDO, Fla. — Think of this as an added victory during this win streak.
Not only did the Miami Heat keep alive the second-longest streak in NBA history, they also provided another opportunity for one of their stars to recuperate. Guard Dwyane Wade sat for a second straight game because of knee soreness, but it didn’t matter in a 108-94 victory Monday against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center.
LeBron James nearly recorded a triple double with 24 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, pulling the Heat closer to league history. They have now won 27 straight games and are six victories shy of tying the 1971-72 Lakers’ record of 33 consecutive wins. The Heat also just needs either a win or a New York Knicks loss to clinch the No. 1 seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
As it has so many times during the streak, the Heat went through lulls before turning it on when it counted. The Magic tied the score at 68 only to see Miami close the third quarter with a 10-0 run.
“You could see how our effort, focus and concentration shifted after that timeout in the third quarter,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But each game is not going to be perfect. You have to figure games out. We were able to do that, so we’ll take that positive.”
The spurt began with a James dunk. He followed that with a three-point play, which was made possible by Chris Andersen running the length of the court to block a layup attempt from Maurice Harkless. Ray Allen then hit a three-pointer and James closed with a pair of free throws.
“We didn’t get back in transition like had been doing,” James said. “We allowed them to get back into the game. With Jameer [Nelson] being a competitor, he started making Jameer shots. For us as a team, we’ve seen it all. We withstand runs. We know other teams are going to make runs and it’s just how we come out of it.”
The Heat improved to 12-1 on the second night of back-to-backs, giving Spoelstra his 250th victory. He reached the milestone faster than any coach in franchise history.
And more important, they extended the streak while Wade was given somewhat of a two-day vacation. Although they appear content on chasing the record, the bigger objective is remaining healthy as the postseason approaches.
Wade spent a portion of last season bothered by nagging injuries that ultimately led to off-season surgery on his left knee. The Heat continued their cautious approach by sitting him a pair of games against opponents they were capable of defeating without him. Mike Miller again replaced him in the starting lineup.
“It was very important,” said forward Rashard Lewis, who scored 11 points and helped make up for Wade’s absence. “The main focus is not the winning streak, it’s the playoffs and winning the championships. Being able to still win ball games with him sitting out to rest his knee is big.”
Wade hinted before the game the concern of his injury was minimal, saying, “I’m not a doctor but I could have pretty much assessed what was wrong with my knee without going to the doctor. I just wanted to make sure.”
An MRI exam a week ago showed no serious damage. He revealed he had been experiencing soreness in his right knee since they played Orlando on March 6. Wade aggravated the injury two weeks later against the Boston Celtics.
The team termed the injury as a “deep bruise,” meaning there is a strong chance he returns for Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Bulls.
“Some days, it feels better than others,” Wade said. “At this point, I’m just trying to be smart. I’ve dealt with certain things. I know how the body works. Once you start compensating for something, you mess up other areas. I don’t need that going down the stretch. We don’t need that as a team. I felt that this was the right time.”
Even without Wade, the Heat were too much for a Magic team dealing with injuries as well. Center Nikola Vucevic, who dominated the Heat the previous two games, was out with a concussion. The Magic were also without Arron Afflalo (hamstring) and Andrew Nicholson, who left in the first quarter with an ankle sprain.
That gave the Heat just a little more room for error. Not that it needed it.
Miami staved off some early-game struggles, falling behind 42-37 when Spoelstra gave center Chris Bosh and James breaks to start the second quarter. It was one of the few times they have used a lineup minus Wade, James or Bosh.
Order was quickly restored when Bosh and James returned.
The Heat responded with a 13-0 run, with the other two All-Stars serving as decoys for the most part. With the Magic focusing on James and Bosh, Lewis hit a pair of three-pointers. Mario Chalmers scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half.