PHILADELPHIA -- Jorge Bergoglio didn't make an appearance at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night, as he was busy being elected Pope over in Rome.
If anyone is going to beat the Miami Heat any time soon, some divine intervention may have to occur. With their exciting, 98-94 win over the 76ers, the Heat has now won 20 games in a row, tying for the third-longest streak in NBA history. It was also the 14th straight regular-season victory over the Sixers by the Heat, who improved to 49-14. The Sixers, who meet Miami one more time this season, fell to 24-40.
Trying to scout a way to stop LeBron James (27 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) is an adventure in futility. He is simply too big, too strong and too fast to be contained. However, there is one telling sign that will let anyone in the vicinity know when he is about to start displaying some special ability. Call it "The Look."
Midway through the second quarter, the Sixers pulled out to a 33-28 lead on the defending champions. A scowl took over James' face, one that showed he was not happy with the current events. So in the next three minutes, he scored nine points, grabbed a couple of rebounds and had an assist and steal that helped propel Miami to a 10-point lead with three minutes, seven seconds to go in the half. When the half did mercifully end, a 23-6 run had been completed and the Heat led, 51-39.
"You look at the way LeBron's able to make plays out there, he allows some of the other guys not to have to expend so much energy for them to be efficient, at least at the offensive end," said Spencer Hawes, who finished with six points and missed a big layup with 23.9 second left and the Sixers trailing by three.
Despite the second-quarter surge led by James, the Sixers battled to become the streak stoppers, and almost succeeded.
An Evan Turner fastbreak layup off a feed from Jrue Holiday put the Sixers up 85-82 with 4:38 to play. After the teams traded baskets the next few minutes, a tremendous dunk by Holiday, who split two defenders at the top of the key then threw down a slam just milliseconds before James came flying in for the block, tied the game at 91 with 1:21 to go.
But James made a free throw, Holiday had a bad turnover and, after a couple of in-close misses by James, Dwyane Wade (21 points, eight rebounds) had an incredible follow tip for a 94-91 lead with 29.4 left. That's when Hawes missed the gimme and the Heat was able to secure No. 20.
"Our guys gave an incredible effort tonight, played very, very well, fought to the finish," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "That Miami team can attack in so many different ways and we gave ourselves every chance. I couldn't be more proud. At the end we just couldn't come up with that one rebound. I thought we executed and got some good shots at the end and just couldn't quite find a way to get over the top."
As for James?
"That's what he does," Collins said. "He did it in the fourth quarter last time we played. You take that little spurt out and it was pretty much an even game throughout. I wanted us to keep pushing the ball, I didn't want to walk the ball up the floor. I wanted to get as much early offense as possible. Against good defensive teams, the earlier in the shot clock you can shoot the better your percentage is going to be. I thought we did a pretty good job with that. Against Miami, it's hard to run plays because they blow everything up. We wanted to move the ball and cut. We felt that caused more problems than to run some kind of play that they could defend. They've won 20 straight, they have three Hall of Fame players, probably, two for sure. They've won a championship, they've won some gold medals. They've been in those situations quite a few times."
But not many as tight as Wednesday's, not during the winning streak. A big reason the Sixers stayed close was the play of Thaddeus Young, who collected 24 points and 15 rebounds. Holiday added 21 points and Evan Turner scored 15. Dorell Wright came off the bench and added 13.
"No game is easy. Any team can be beaten on any given night," Young said. "You always have to go out there and play as hard as you can. I don't think it was any pressure on us. Those guys are on a streak and they didn't want it to end. We were trying to end it. We just have to figure out how to beat those guys."
So do 28 other teams. Help from above may be the only way.
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