LeBron James wasn't in his finest form, but the Miami Heat used suffocating defense and team-wide offensive contributions to get their 19th straight win on Tuesday, defeating the Atlanta Hawks, 98-81, at American Airlines Arena.
James finished the contest with 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but struggled mightily with his shot. The league-MVP favorite was just 3-of-11 from the field, as shots from long-range and around the basket clanged aimlessly off the rim. It was just his fifth game all season scoring below the 20-point mark, but his second in a row following Sunday’s victory over Indiana.
His most notable contribution, though, will undoubtedly end up on top-10 plays throughout the nation. Falling down after going up for an ill-advised pass from Udonis Haslem, here's James as he made a beautiful diving assist in the first quarter.
The recipient of that assist, Dwyane Wade, was somewhat better from a scoring perspective, with 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Chris Bosh added 14 points of his own, as the Heat finished with five players in double figures.
What really determined the outcome was Miami’s tenacious defense from everywhere on the floor. The Hawks finished the contest with 22 turnovers, and 27 of the Heat's points were the direct result of Atlanta mistakes.
It was those mistakes that prevented the Hawks from coming back from an early deficit. They trailed by as many as nine points in the opening minutes and never held the lead throughout the entire contest. In fact, the game was only tied once—at 28-28 early in the second quarter.
That said, Miami was not in NBA Finals form on Tuesday. The team shot an uncharacteristically low 42.7 percent from the floor and was dominated by the opposition in terms of fast-break points, 28-10.
On the "Greatest Hits" DVD that will undoubtedly come out after this streak ends, this will only get “bonus features” distinction. Despite the massive victory, it was often an ugly exhibition. Miami did not bring its best offensive game, and perhaps would have lost to a better opponent—or even on a night where Josh Smith and Al Horford had more than a combined 27 points.
That said, Tuesday’s victory was simply indicative of how things are going for the Heat. Their two biggest stars had fine, but not great, games and they still walloped a playoff team. They now have 19 straight games down and one more to go before tying the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks for the third-longest single-season streak in league history.
With an upcoming matchup against the struggling Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, the Heat are heavy favorites to make that so. And as Tuesday’s display proves, they may not even need their best performance to do it.