Just when the Miami Heat appeared vulnerable, they've surged and again look like one of the league's best teams.
Wednesday night's game in Charlotte appears to be a mismatch as the Bobcats try to snap a 15-game losing streak overall and an eight-game skid against the Heat.
The Heat lost three of five from Dec. 4-12, one of which was only the second of three wins this season for Washington. Miami (19-6) has won five straight since that rough patch, with the first four coming by an average of 18.0 points.
Though if there's an opportunity for the Bobcats to sneak up on the Heat, Wednesday might be it.
Miami will be playing for the second straight night after a grueling 103-97 win over Oklahoma City on Christmas. The NBA Finals rematch left LeBron James saying he was "tired as hell" more than an hour after finishing with 29 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to help the franchise match its best 25-game start. James has scored at least 20 in his last 30 regular-season games and in 46 games overall.
The Heat needed a couple of unlikely performances - 19-for-19 team free-throw shooting and a season-high 20 points from Mario Chalmers - to ensure the win.
"I got going early," Chalmers said. "And I stuck with it."
Charlotte (7-20) initially showed promise after last year's 7-59 debacle with a 7-5 start to the season, but a 110-88 loss at Denver on Saturday marked the team's 15th straight defeat. The Bobcats lost the final 23 games of last season, and the league record is Cleveland's 26 from two years ago.
They allowed 99.6 points per game through their first 12 contests - not an elite mark but substantially better than their league-worst 109.4 since then. Opponents have particularly exposed Charlotte on the interior, with the Nuggets scoring 78 points in the paint.
"We're a young team," said leading scorer Kemba Walker, who is averaging 18.3 points. "We've got a few vets, but our core group is really young. Losing is one of the hardest things you can ever go through, especially losing as many as we've lost. But at the same time, you've got to keep your chin up. You've got to know that these losses will turn into wins one day."
Recent injuries make matters worse for the Bobcats. Ben Gordon (right knee soreness) and Gerald Henderson (bruised shin), who combined to average 26.5 points, could return Wednesday, but Byron Mullens is expected to miss significant time because of an ankle sprain he sustained in the final moments Saturday. Mullens is averaging 11.6 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds.
Miami won the three meetings last season by an average of 21.0 points, and hasn't lost to the Bobcats since March 9, 2010.
Chris Bosh, a career 19.7 per game scorer, is averaging 24.0 points lifetime against Charlotte, his highest average against any opponent.
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