CLEVELAND—For the third time this season, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers got the best of Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. In this most recent setback, the Cavaliers handed the Heat their fourth straight defeat, beating them 102-86 on Thursday night.
James poured in 36 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds to help the Cavs win their 10th consecutive game and send the sliding Heat two games under .500.
Miami has now lost six out of their last seven contests and fallen into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference after holding onto the fifth spot for most of the year.
Wade scored 24 points on 11-of-26 shooting, to go along with nine assists, four steals, and three rebounds, but had six turnovers and only got to the free throw line once the entire game.
The Heat only trailed by four points at halftime, but were ultimately doomed by their lack of free throws. Cleveland attempted 36 free throws to Miami's 14, with James continually attacking the basket and punishing the Heat by converting 17-of-21 from the line.
James was filling in at point guard as Mo Williams and Delonte West were both out due to injuries, and he certainly made Miami pay.
Normally, Miami-Cleveland matchups are filled with high-octane, who-can-do-better performances by James and Wade. Last time the two met, the dynamic duo combined for 70 points in Miami's loss to the Cavaliers.
This time, James clearly got the better of Wade and improved to 13-9 overall against his close friend and Olympic teammate.
The Heat stayed close for the majority of the game, only trailing by eight after the third quarter, but the Cavs opened the final quarter with a 10-3 run and were able to pull away.
“This team is just better than us,” said Wade. "You have to be realistic. I understand this team has NBA championship aspirations. We don’t have that. We’re focusing on trying to get to the playoffs and this team is trying to get to the championship. It’s totally different.”
Michael Beasley had a big game, posting a double-double with 21 points and 12 boards to continue his recent strong play. Jermaine O'Neal chipped in with 14 points and three rebounds. Dorell Wright continued his recent string of success with nine points and six rebounds, while reserve center Joel Anthony posted eight points and eight boards.
Former Heat center Shaquille O'Neal had an efficient game with 13 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes of play.
Miami is facing their toughest stretch of the season and is clearly faltering under the pressure. The Heat will continue their road trip tomorrow against the Chicago Bulls, before they get a one-game break at home versus the Houston Rockets.
This is a critical stretch for the Heat and they will need to defeat the Bulls just to stay in the playoff race, as the ninth-seeded Bucks trail Miami by only one game.