LeBron James loads up for a dunk in the first quarter against the Cavaliers. (Ed Suba Jr./Akron Beacon Journal)
Cleveland — LeBron James scored 25 points as the Miami Heat overcame a 27-point deficit in the third quarter and won their 24th straight game, 98-95 over the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night to extend the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.
"That guy right there doesn't want to lose in this building," teammate Dwayne Wade said, nodding toward James. "Not tonight."
The Heat are within nine games of matching the record of 33 consecutive wins held by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
James and his teammates have insisted the record isn't one of their goals, and for more than 30 minutes the defending champions seemed uninterested and on the verge of losing for the first time since Feb. 1. Miami trailed, 67-40, with 7:44 left in the third quarter.
But behind the irrepressible James, who added 12 rebounds and 10 assists, the Heat inched closer to history.
They matched the biggest comeback in the NBA this season, according to STATS.
Although the Cavs were missing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao — who are their top three scorers — they pushed Miami to the limit.
It wasn't until James, playing his fourth game back in Cleveland since leaving as a free agent in 2010, made two free throws with 4.7 seconds left that Miami could relax a little. The Cavs had one last chance to tie it, but C.J. Miles was long with a 3-pointer in the final second, letting Miami off the hook.
This was much tougher than he and the Heat could have imagined.
"This was one of the most bizarre, unique days of my life with everything that happened," James said.
He was referring to a homecoming in which a fan ran onto the floor and the opening tip was delayed 35 minutes by a leaky scoreboard. "It also was one of the best comebacks I've ever been a part of."
After the game, James stopped to sign a few autographs on the way to Miami's locker room.