Grading Miami Heat's NBA Season-Best 17th Straight Win vs. Philadelphia 76ers
With the win, the Heat (46-14) matched the Los Angeles Clippers for the longest winning streak of the 2012-13 season and they're over halfway to the all-time NBA record of 33 set by the 1971-72 Lakers.
The Heat also became the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth this season.
But their streak appeared at least in slight jeopardy as the Heat once again sputtered out of the gate against an inferior opponent. Ultimately, though, they had too much talent for the Andrew Bynum-less 76ers (23-38) to overcome.
Early on, MVP front-runner LeBron James could do no wrong. He willed the Heat to a 28-24 lead after the first quarter despite getting next to nothing from his supporting cast.
While they did their best to keep Philly All-Star Jrue Holiday off the scoreboard (two points, 0-of-5 from the field in the first half), they couldn't keep the Sixers' supporting cast in check. Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young combined for 26 points and eight rebounds through two quarters.
After building that first-quarter lead, Miami struggled mightily in James' absence. Ray Allen poured in an efficient nine first-half points (4-of-4 from the field), but Wade and Chris Bosh looked more like volume scorers (14 points on 13 field-goal attempts in the first half).
On the strength of its 27-19 second-quarter edge, Philadelphia carried a 51-47 lead into the locker room. Miami raised its defensive intensity in the third quarter, but a pair of threes from former Heat player Dorell Wright in the final two minutes left the Sixers within one after 36 minutes.
Once the fourth quarter started, Miami ramped up its defensive effort, outscoring the Sixers, 26-18, in the final period.
The Heat haven't lost at American Airlines Arena since falling to the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 4, a streak of 13 straight victories. The Sixers, meanwhile, lost for the 11th time in their last 12 games.
Point Guard: Mario Chalmers
Sharing the ball-handling duties with three other players (James, Wade and Norris Cole) often keeps Mario Chalmers from major statistical outbursts.
Friday night was no exception, as the fifth-year guard finished with just eight points and four assists in 22 minutes.
Even still, it's hard not to be impressed by his efficient offensive approach. He hit three of his four field-goal attempts and two of his three long-range looks.
But his main concern in this game wasn't on the offensive end. He was tasked with slowing down All-Star Jrue Holiday, and kept the rising star from ever finding his offensive rhythm.
Holiday still finished with 13 assists, but never found any comfort in his jumper. He shot just 3-of-11 from the field and failed to reach double digits for the first time in his last six games.
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
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Wade had a rough showing in the first half, converting only two of his six field-goal attempts.
But like his teammates, he woke up after intermission. He shot a blistering 7-of-10 from the field in the second half., with six of his seven made field goals coming within the paint.
He deserves a lot of credit for recognizing that his jump shot wasn't falling and making a determined effort to attack the basket.
He did get out of control on his drives a few times (four turnovers) and had an unusually quiet night on the glass (two rebounds). But he still demanded enough defensive attention to leave James with open driving lanes.
Defensively, he spent a large portion of the night as a rover, with Charles Jenkins not posing a serious offensive threat and Evan Turner struggling to find his rhythm (4-of-13 from the floor). That allowed him to be his typical pesky self, tallying three steals and a block in his 35 minutes.
Small Forward: LeBron James
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This is where James has now raised the bar—he had a quiet night by his standards and still finished with 25 points, 10 boards, five assists, two blocks and a steal.
He did a solid job of reading his teammates, knowing when to attack and when to defer.
Even though his teammates weren't holding defenders, he still bullied his way through the defense when he decided to drive. When a screen left him in a mismatch with Spencer Hawes near the three-point line, James cracked a little smile before racing to the basket for an and-one finish.
If Miami's streak looked in serious jeopardy, he wiped away those concerns with a buzzer-beating three to close out the third quarter.
Apparently, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra felt that sense of relief as he pulled James with the Heat up eight and eight minutes left in regulation. James would not be needed the rest of the night.
Power Forward: Udonis Haslem
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Haslem's the definition of a garbageman, ugly on the stat sheet and often brilliant on the floor.
Frankly, he just wasn't needed much in this game. He attempted just one field goal (a point-blank layup created by beating the Philly defenders down the floor) and corralled four rebounds in his 16 minutes.
Beyond the box score, though, he had a fairly impressive night.
As the Heat threatened to break the game open in the third quarter, Chalmers had a careless turnover near midcourt. Despite a racing 7'1", 245-pound Hawes headed in his direction, Haslem simply braced for impact and absorbed a heavy collision, drawing an offensive foul.
His rebounding numbers weren't spectacular, but the veteran showed a good sense of his position on the floor and sealed off his man from getting to the glass. He struggled at times defending the athletic Thaddeus Young (25 points, 12-of-15 from the field), but was crisp in his defensive rotations.
Center: Chris Bosh
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Hawes isn't a typical back-to-the-basket big man, but he still held a hard-to-miss size advantage over Bosh.
And early on, that clearly bothered the Heat center. He tried to pull Hawes away from the basket, but his errant mid-range jumpers failed to move Hawes out of the paint.
Later in the game, though, he found ways to use his quickness to his advantage beating the slower Hawes to the basket. He converted a beautiful spinning layup on an and-one with a little over three minutes left in the game, then flashed his soft touch on a hook shot two minutes later.
While he needed 14 shots to get his 16 points, he had the right plan of attack. He just wasn't always finishing on those drives.
If not for a team-wide determination to hit the glass (the Heat had a 39-33 edge in rebounding), Bosh's four boards in 31 minutes would look pretty awful. As it is, they still reveal a hint of whatever minimal vulnerability the Heat may have.
Sixth Man: Ray Allen
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Allen was the lone bench player keeping the Heat within striking distance during Philly's second-quarter charge.
And it wasn't just the fact that he was scoring (he's been doing that for 17 years now), but rather the ways in which he was finding his points.
He finished the night with 12 points, which normally might mean he hit at least three from long distance. But only one of his field goals came from the perimeter.
He moved well without the basketball, catching his defender off guard on a few occasions. He awakened the AAA crowd late in the first half with a vintage one-handed flush on the fast break. His lone basket of the second half came on a nifty hook shot in the lane.
At this stage in his career, he's not stuffing too many stat sheets. But his first-half offense was clearly one of the keys to this win.
Rest of Miami's Bench
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Chris Andersen continued to show why he's one of the most underrated midseason acquisitions in this game. He gave the Heat a defensive presence near the basket (two blocks), hustled well on both ends of the floor and put on a "back-tapping" display that would have made Tyson Chandler proud.
But there may not have been a more valuable reserve on this night than Shane Battier. His stat sheet was stuffed with goodies (11 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal) and he even found a way to score inside the three-point line, dropping in a hook shot in the fourth quarter.
Norris Cole had a quiet night (two points, two assists, two rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes), but still made a few impactful hustle plays with his athleticism.