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James scores 27 in return as Heat tops Sixers

The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- Erik Spoelstra's ears work just fine. He just doesn't choose to always use them for their primary function.

That was how the Miami Heat coach handled "The LeBron James Situation" Saturday night in which he got his superstar back from an injury but was careful not to overextend him.

James was efficient, scoring a game-high 27 points in 29 minutes to help defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 106-87 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

"There was no restraint on my part," Spoelstra said when asked about James, who averages 40 minutes per game for his career. "It was just selective hearing. I just didn't listen to him and what he was saying on the bench."

Spoelstra said the way the Heat has been winning lately without its superstars -- 3-1 in the past four games with Dwyane Wade and either James or Chris Bosh out -- is a positive.

"This is good -- not only for our team to develop trust and confidence but also for (James) to understand that guys can step up," Spoelstra said. "Even if (James) has to sit out due to foul trouble or whatever may happen in the playoffs, other guys can give us minutes."

On Saturday, the Heat led 85-82 with 7:32 left before putting together a 7-0 run to help subdue the 76ers.

It was the Heat's 60th win of the season, including a 33-4 home record. The Heat's magic number to clinch the best record in the NBA is two.

Miami is also just one victory away from tying the franchise record of 61 wins, set in 1996-97.

"That's special," James said of 60. "This is a special team. We've been saying it all year. We don't want to take this moment for granted. There are not many teams in NBA history who have won 60 games, and I'm happy to be a part of such a special team."

The Heat has won 16 straight regular-season games against the 76ers, including all four this season.

"I can't even remember the last time we beat them," Sixers center Spencer Hawes said.

Hint: It was in March 2009.

James, who had missed three straight games because of a hamstring injury, also had five assists and four rebounds Saturday. He did all that just one day after winning his fifth straight Eastern Conference Player of the Month award.

The Heat also got back Ray Allen, who missed Friday's game at Charlotte because of an ankle injury. He tripped over a photographer near midcourt in Tuesday's loss to the Knicks.

On Saturday, Allen had 11 points in 26 minutes, making all three of his 3-point tries.

The 76ers had five scorers in double figures, led by Jrue Holiday with 18 points. The guard had been slumping lately and shot only 7 of 17 on Saturday, but he also hit 3 of 4 3-pointers, a positive sign for Philadelphia.

Coach Doug Collins said his team did some good things, most notably holding the explosive Heat to just two fast-break points.

But the 76ers' double-teaming of James created open shots for Miami's shooters, who knocked down 56 percent (14 of 25) on 3-pointers.

Seven players burned Philadelphia for 3-pointers, including Allen and Mario Chalmers with three each and Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis and Norris Cole with two each.

"Anytime you can get two (defenders) on the ball and spread it, that means you are playing four-on-five," Collins said. "They shot it well. Rashard Lewis got in a groove. Ray Allen is back playing very well. Norris Cole is playing well. (Spoelstra) has to be happy with how his team is playing."

Collins said he thought the Sixers got tired in the fourth quarter.

"We played three games in four nights," Collins said. "We played a game (Friday night) and traveled. The Heat did, too, but LeBron hadn't played. He was fresh. Ray Allen was fresh.

"We hung in there. Our guys were diving on the floor for loose balls. We hung around. We fought. But the three-point line and LeBron were too much to overcome."

NOTES: Wade (ankle/knee) missed his fourth straight game. "He has to resolve the swelling from getting hit in the knee," Spoelstra said. "His body will tell us when we play him. But, structurally, this is the best he's felt in years -- so that is the good news." ... Bosh sat out Saturday's game because of a hyperextended right knee. Spoelstra said Bosh suffered the injury three games ago but had been playing through the pain. It is just the fourth game Bosh has missed this season. ... Heat center Joel Anthony made his first start of the season Saturday. He started 51 games last season but had virtually disappeared from the rotation this year as the Heat went to a smaller lineup. Still, he had three blocks in seven minutes Friday against Charlotte, and he stepped in Saturday for Bosh. ... The 76ers have been playing much better of late, having won five of seven entering Saturday. They have also won three of five road games since March 24, which is a huge improvement for a franchise that had lost 15 straight away from Philadelphia. ... Hawes and Evan Turner are the Sixers' most improved players. In 16 games entering Saturday, Hawes was averaging 16.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. In the 62 games previous to that, he averaged 10.1 points and 6.6 rebounds. Turner averaged 20.8 games in his previous four games. ... The Sixers conclude their four-game road trip Tuesday in Brooklyn. ... Next up for the Heat is a home game Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, who are Miami's likely first-round playoff opponent.
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