PHILADELPHIA – LeBron James scored 27 points and the Miami Heat became the fourth team to win at least 20 consecutive games in a season, rallying to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 98-94 on Wednesday night.
Dwyane Wade added 21 as the Heat needed big baskets over the final 2 minutes to top the Sixers for the milestone win.
Only three teams have won at least 20 consecutive games in the same season: the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (33), the 2007-08 Houston Rockets (22) and the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (20). The Washington Capitols also won 20 straight, spanning the end of the 1947-48 season and the start of the 1948-49 campaign.
Thaddeus Young had 24 points and 15 rebounds for the Sixers.
James and the Heat have started to acknowledge just how special this winning streak is in a season that has them running away with the Eastern Conference.
They opened a five-game road trip as 8½-point favorites over the slumping Sixers, a team they've defeated three times during the streak. They beat Atlanta on Tuesday for streak win No. 19, then made the flight to Philadelphia that put them in just before dawn.
"You get sleep when you can and do your job," center Chris Bosh said before the game.
Maybe fatigue played a bit of a role in Miami's inability to truly put away the Sixers. Led by Young, the Sixers opened the third quarter on a 16-8 run that helped slice the lead to four. Miami led 71-66 at the end of the quarter.
The Sixers hung around in the fourth, too. Dorell Wright hit a 3-pointer to make it a six-point game and he followed with a steal and fast-break dunk to cut it 82-78. Sixers fans coming to see a slice of history were suddenly rooting for history denied. Philadelphia's fans started going wild to the "make some noise" sign on the video board and started singing the catchy anthem, "1-2-3-4-5-Sixers!"
Jrue Holiday brought them back with a 3-pointer for an 83-82 lead with 5:26 left and had fans chanting, "Beat the Heat!"
Ray Allen silenced them with a big 3 in front of the Sixers' bench for an 89-86 lead. Bosh scored to make it 91-89.
It wasn't enough, at least not yet. Holiday, the All-Star point guard, showed no fear of the moment when he dunked on James for the tying bucket.
James came right back made one of two free throws for a 92-91 lead. Holiday dribbled the ball into Bosh's leg, then off his own foot, leading to Wade's tip after James missed twice at the rim.
The Heat escaped with a scare — and No. 20.
Unless they wear down, there's no reason to think the Heat can't keep the streak going toward 33. The rest of the road trip includes games at Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston and Cleveland.
Fans in Heat jerseys dotted the arena and dozens packed the baseline three rows deep snapping pictures of Miami's pregame drills. James wowed them with some around-the-back reverses that served as a sneak peek for what was ahead.
James, the reigning MVP, turned the second quarter into his own dunk contest. It helped that he didn't have any competition.
With flair, James threw down thunderous dunks about every time he touched the ball. His best came on a reverse he brought between the legs that had the sellout crowd of 20,398 "Oooohhhh!" in amazement. His dunk capped a 17-2 run that put the Heat up 10 and helped them cruise toward a 51-39 halftime lead.
But the first half wasn't all about James' dazzling dunks. The Heat had 14 assists on 19 baskets and Shane Battier came off the bench to hit a pair of lead-stretching 3-pointers. It's the kind of teamwork that has the Heat rolling.
"You have to have a unique group that are willing to sacrifice, a unique group willing to keep perspective of what we're playing for and not get caught up in all the noise outside," coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game. "There are so many distractions, not only in this league, but everyday life."
Spoelstra could talk to Heat president Pat Riley on how to handle the distractions that come with a record winning streak. Riley played for the Lakers team that won 33 straight games. But while the two talk daily, Spoelstra said Miami's streak hasn't been discussed. Not once.
Thanks to a fantastic finish, they'll have another day to bring it up.
Notes: New Eagles coach Chip Kelly had a lengthy chat outside the locker room with Spoelstra before the game. Kelly had previously made a pregame visit with Sixers coach Doug Collins. ... Holiday had 21 points and Evan Turner scored 15.