Might have gotten the Heat prepped for a daunting road stretch as well.
Dwyane Wade scored 26 points, James added 24 and the Heat said farewell to their home floor for nearly two weeks by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-91 on Tuesday night. Miami's lead was only a point late in the third quarter, before the Cavaliers missed 17 of their next 19 shots and the Heat finally pulled away.
"It was definitely going to be necessary," James said of the late defensive push, one that ensured Miami would beat Cleveland for the fifth time in six meetings since the two-time MVP left the Cavaliers for the Heat. "And that's how we want to close out games."
Chris Bosh finished with 15 points for the Heat, who have won 11 of their last 13 games and stayed within a game of Chicago in the Eastern Conference race, both teams tied in the loss column with six. Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem each scored 14 for Miami, which starts a stretch of five road games in seven nights at Orlando on Wednesday, then caps the six-game trip with a visit to Cleveland on Feb. 17.
The Heat are 19-6, the best 25-game start in team history.
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"We just had to grind it out, grind it out -- until it was our time to pull away," Wade said.
Antawn Jamison scored 25 points and had nine rebounds for Cleveland, which got 17 from Alonzo Gee, and 16 points, six rebounds and six assists from Kyrie Irving. Anderson Varejao had 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who were outscored 29-19 in the fourth and got a 4 for 23 shooting night from their reserves.
"I thought we competed," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. "I thought our starters played pretty well. Our second unit just couldn't make baskets, couldn't throw anything in the ocean. You're not going to win a lot of games when you're not get any contributions but again a lot of it had to do with the injuries. I'm not trying to make any excuse. You've got to give them a lot of credit. They're a good basketball team."
Facing a number of injury issues, Cleveland had only 11 players in uniform for the game. Daniel Gibson (neck infection), Tristan Thompson (sprained left ankle) and Anthony Parker (strained lower back) were not with the club, and earlier this week the team waived Mychel Thompson -- who had started the Cavs' last three games and scored six points in their win over Dallas on Saturday.
Short-handed or not, the Cavs gave the Heat all they wanted -- just as they did in Miami two weeks ago.
Jamison had 20 points in the first half, his best opening half since March 6, 2010. And whenever it seemed like Miami was about to take off on a run, like when it had a quick 15-8 lead early or a 43-33 edge midway through the second quarter, Cleveland had an answer.
That trend continued in the third.
"We did a good job," Varejao said, "until the fourth quarter."
An 18-9 run by the Cavs to open the second half gave them a 66-63 edge, before the Heat put together a pair of quick bursts -- dunks by James punctuating both. He capped a 9-2 run by catching a long pass from Haslem in transition for a five-point lead, and after Cleveland clawed back within one, Chalmers hit a 3-pointer and James followed a missed layup by Battier with a one-handed slam for a 78-72 edge entering the fourth.
With that, Miami had taken Cleveland's best shot.
"That team is improved, they play hard and they compete," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They're a tough team to put away."
Starting with that mini-flurry by Miami to close the third, the Cavaliers were outscored 19-6 over an 8-minute span. Wade made back-to-back hoops to give Miami what was its biggest lead at 92-78 midway through the fourth.
"We were in the game for most of the game," Irving said. "In the fourth quarter I felt that we could make a run but we were just not hitting shots. They weren't falling. It happens."
And now comes the trip that Miami sees as an opportunity.
It's a rare six-game swing around the East for Miami, which starts in Orlando and then goes to Washington, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Indiana, the last three of those in consecutive nights, before wrapping up at the arena James called home for his first seven NBA seasons.
"I was just talking to D-Wade about it. I think it's going to be great," James said. "One thing about us, we love these road trips. They bring us together even more. It's just us. It's the 15 guys, the coaching staff, the training staff and we all come together. It's a big test for us."
- The Heat waived C Mickell Gladness on Tuesday, hours before the deadline for non-guaranteed contracts to become guaranteed. Terrel Harris and Eddy Curry remained with the club, as expected. There's a chance Gladness could return on a 10-day deal, but the Heat are also looking at free agents such as C Joel Przybilla.
- Varejao acknowledged he's a little anxious waiting for Thursday's announcements of the All-Star Game's reserve selections. "I mean, I'm not going to say I'm not.
- If it happens, I'll be really happy," Varejao said. He's got a fan in Spoelstra, who believes Varejao is worthy of the nod.
- Heat F Juwan Howard celebrated his 39th birthday. "Just a number," Howard said.
- Spoelstra, when asked about the possibility of him coaching the East in the All-Star Game: "It's an awesome event for players."