Heat 94, Lakers 88
Published 12:00 am Friday, March 11, 2011
MIAMI ó The first chore for the Miami Heat is done: Theyíre in the playoffs.
Thatís no surprise.
Snapping a five-game slide by beating the NBAís hottest team to get there, well, that might not have been what everyone saw coming.
Chris Bosh scored 24 points, Dwyane Wade added eight of his 20 in the fourth quarter and the Heat ended their losing streak by beating the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers 94-88 on Thursday night, the earliest Miami has secured a postseason bid in franchise history.
LeBron James finished with 19 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for the Heat, and Mike Miller scored 12 for Miami.
Kobe Bryant scored 24 points for the Lakers, whose eight-game winning streak was snapped. Pau Gasol added 20 and Andrew Bynum finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds for Los Angeles.
There were so many subplots surrounding this game ó the winning streak, the losing streak, Miamiís frustration levels, and so on ó that it didnít need more drama.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson provided some before tipoff anyway.
Jackson ó whoís shown a flair for poking the Heat more than once this season ó said before the game that he doesnít like how Miami plays, even likening its style to an Xbox video game.
ěIím not a big fan of the style that Miami plays,î Jackson said.
He might like it less now, after the Heat finished off a season sweep of the defending champions.
The final minutes hardly seemed like a team with an eight-game winning streak facing a team on a five-game losing streak.
It was theater, the out-of-your-seat, roaring-after-every-play variety.
Start with 4:42 left in the fourth quarter, when the game was tied for the 17th time by Gasol making two free throws, knotting things at 82-82.
Wade changed speeds for separation and drove past Bryant, putting Miami back on top, so Bryant ó who had missed 9 of his last 11 shots ó came down on the ensuing possession and hit a 3-pointer from near the Heat bench.
They were just getting started. Bryant made another 3-pointer ó officially, it went into the books as 28 feet, though it seemed longer ó with 2:26 left to tie the game at 88. A minute later, Wade knocked the ball away from Bryant, got it back and set up James for a dunk in transition to send Miami up again, 90-88.
Wade has said he wants the ball in end-of-game situations.
The Heat listened.
James freed him with a pick against Bryant, Wade drove and got a layup to bounce through for a four-point edge with 46.0 seconds left.
Bryant lost the ball under the Lakersí basket five seconds later, and then James put it away with two free throws with 19.2 seconds remaining.
And it didnít come easily.
James went nearly 19 minutes without scoring in one stretch, until a layup with 5:20 left in the third gave Miami a 62-59 lead. When his drought ended, the entire Heat team started one.
The Lakers had a 9-0 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer from Derek Fisher. But Miami answered, scoring six of the final eight points of the period and getting within 70-68 when James stepped back and hit a 20-footer over Ron Artest with 0.2 seconds remaining.
So with that, Miami got a buzzer-beater to end the first quarter, the last basket of the second, and another beat-the-clock score to close the third.
The Heat have lost 11 times this season when having a chance to take the lead or tie the game in the final 12 seconds.
This one didnít go down to the absolute wire, though. Miami took care of it before the final moments.
The first half was about as even as could be ó 10 ties, 10 lead changes, both teams holding five-point leads at some point, and the Heat taking a 55-53 edge into the break.
Bryant made his first four shots and scored the Lakersí first 10 points, then managed just seven on 2 for 6 shooting in the final 201/2 minutes before halftime. Gasol added 14 by intermission, while the Heat countered with a scoring twosome of their own.
And no, neither James nor Wade was carrying the load.
Bosh ó who said after Tuesdayís loss to Portland that he would demand the ball more often in the low post ó made six of his first seven attempts and had 16 points in the half. Miller added 11 by halftime, only the second time heíd reached double digits in the first two quarters all season, the other memorably being the 24-point blitz en route to a 32-point effort on Jan. 22 against Toronto.
A pair of late-in-the-quarter scores helped the Heat. James drove the left side of the lane, double-pumped and hit a one-handed runner over Gasol that beat the buzzer for a 29-26 Miami lead after the first, and Boshís tip-in with 17.8 seconds left in the second gave the Heat their 44th halftime lead of the season.
NOTES: Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton was courtside ó in a Bryant jersey. Heís a native of the Los Angeles area. … Magic Johnson sat opposite the Miami bench, with Heat President Pat Riley. … Juwan Howard appeared in the first quarter for Miami, the first time thatís happened since Jan. 28. … The Heat plan to honor Tim James, their 1999 first-round pick who enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Iraq when his playing career was over, when they host Denver on March 19.
The Associated Press