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LeBron delivers a sweet 16th straight win for Heat

The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- The streak lives -- but barely.

LeBron James was the hero again, scoring a lefty layup with 3.2 seconds left to lead the Miami Heat to a franchise-record 16th consecutive win, beating the Orlando Magic 97-96 Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Heat led by 20 points in the third quarter before the Magic rallied. Orlando led 96-93 with 1:16 left before Miami came back, as it has so many times this season.

James led the Heat with 26 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, and Dwyane Wade added 24.

The streak has become the talk of the NBA -- everywhere except among the Heat players and coaches.

"I don't really think about the streak, honestly," said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who had 17 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. "It's cool. Don't get me wrong. But we know what we're here for. We want to win in the spring time (the NBA Finals)."

The Heat (45-14) leads the rest of the Eastern Conference by a wide margin and also has the best home record in the NBA at 27-3. Still, they have struggled against Orlando.

The last time these teams met was on New Year's Eve, when the Heat prevailed 112-110 in overtime. Orlando's Nikola Vucevic set a franchise record with 29 rebounds.

On Wednesday, Vucevic was stellar again with 25 points and 21 rebounds. He made 11 of 16 shots from the field, 3 of 3 from the line and added four assists.

"He should play every game against us," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra joked. "He's physical, he's skilled. He pounded us on the glass, again, two games in a row."

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn used the word "unbelievable" to describe Vucevic.

"(The Heat) came into the game trying to eliminate him because of the performance he had last night," the coach said.

Unfortunately for the Magic, Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris fouled out in the final minutes, crippling Orlando's chances to prevail.

With 2:14 left, Harris gave the Magic a 94-93 lead with one of two free throws. Jameer Nelson then hit a jumper over Bosh to make it 96-93.

James missed a pair of 3-point tries that could have tied the score.

But, in perhaps the game's biggest play, Harris made a baseline floater that was wiped out when the officials ruled that Shane Battier had drawn the offensive foul.

"That's the beauty of charges," Battier said. "It's an instinctive play. If you are good at it, you don't have to think about it."

Vaughn was not pleased with the officiating overall.

"We put up a good fight, I just wish we were given a better shot," he said. "They shot 35 free throws (to the Magic's 12). ... You can add it up --we got called for 30 fouls, and they got called for 17, and three of our guys fouled out.

"But, one day, we will get there."

Had Harris' shot counted, the Magic would have been up by five with 52 seconds left. Instead, Bosh made a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 96-95.

After an Al Harrington miss, the Heat called timeout with 12.6 seconds left. It was a timeout the Heat did not want.

"It was a miscommunication -- the official apologized," Spoelstra said. "I had told him beforehand that if they score, I wanted a timeout. But they missed, and I was waving go, and he assumed I wanted a timeout. Those things happen."

The unwanted timeout allowed Orlando to set up its defense. Miami countered with a pick and roll with Bosh and James, who scored the Heat's first field goal in nearly seven minutes (6:58).

It was the fifth time during the winning streak that the Heat won by six points or less.

The Heat is one win shy of tying the Clippers for the longest winning streak in the NBA this season.

During the Heat streak, Miami had posted some big wins, including road victories over Oklahoma City, New York and Chicago and home decisions over the Clippers and Lakers.

NOTES: Before Wednesday's game, Vaughn talked about the recently acquired Harris. "He's been a welcome addition," Vaughn said. "He's a versatile player who can guard several positions." ... Spoelstra on bringing Juwan Howard back to his roster: "It felt a little strange with him not here. He brings veteran leadership and championship pedigree. He's respected by the guys and kept in shape. We feel he's an important piece for us down the stretch." ... Howard, though, was inactive Wednesday along with teammate Jarvis Varnado and Orlando's Glen Davis. ... Wednesday's game was the start of a four-game homestand for the Heat, the highlight of which will come Sunday against the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are 2-0 vs. the Heat, but this will be their first trip to Miami this season.
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