MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Alonzo Mourning never did it. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t, either. Even Dwyane Wade had never won 15 games in a row as a member of the Miami Heat.
The Heat have had their fair share of stars come through South Beach over the last 25 years, none of them as bright as LeBron James.
Wade had 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, James shrugged off a sore left knee to score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds, and the Heat earned their franchise-record 15th straight victory with a 97-81 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.
“Any time you get an opportunity set a record, it’s great for the organization and the guys involved,” James said. “But we want to keep going. We want to keep winning each game by itself. We don’t talk about the streak, we just go to the next game and play it out. We look forward to the next one.”
Chris Bosh added 11 points and nine rebounds, and James played 35 minutes despite being listed as a game-time decision with a twisted left knee.
Derrick Williams had 25 points and 10 rebounds and Ricky Rubio had 14 points, eight assists, six steals and five rebounds for the Timberwolves. J.J. Barea had four points on 1-for-11 shooting and was ejected in the fourth quarter after getting a Flagrant-2 foul for a hit on Heat guard Ray Allen.
Minnesota was down six points with eight minutes to play when Barea was ejected. The Heat then went on a 17-5 run to put away the game.
Officials initially ruled it a Flagrant 1, but changed the call upon reviewing it, eliciting strong protests from Barea and Wolves coach Rick Adelman, who also picked up a technical foul. Adelman was furious after the game, alluding to an incident two weeks ago against Golden State in which Wolves center Greg Stiemsma was hit in the chest by a forearm shiver from Jarrett Jack, but was given a Flagrant-1 and allowed to keep playing.
“I just have one question I want to ask the league,” Adelman said. “Why is that a Flagrant-2 foul tonight and the other night Jarrett Jack hit Stiemsma in the stomach with a forearm that that was a Flagrant 1? I would just like to know the difference. That changed the whole game.”
Allen immediately got up from the foul and rushed at Barea, but players from both sides stepped in and broke up the confrontation.
“It just came out of nowhere,” Allen said. “I was dribbling down the floor, it was a play where he kind of chucked me a little bit and knocked the ball away. I got it back and drove and he just leveled me. I thought it was uncalled for. There’s no place for that in this game.”
Barea was jawing at Allen as he left the court and said he expected the league to change the call on Tuesday.
“I’ve been playing in the NBA for seven years,” Barea said. “I get hit harder than that every night. I don’t get up crying and want to fight.”
The Heat outscored Minnesota 58-32 in the paint, amassing 24 dunks or layups out of 38 total field goals.
The Heat had every reason to sit James down in this one, and the runaway favorite for MVP wouldn’t have been blamed. The Heat were playing the second game of a road back-to-back, coming off a stirring victory over New York and playing an undermanned opponent that had lost 21 of its last 25 games.
Maybe in the past, James would have. But not this year. He’s reached a different level, one that no one has been able to compete with, whether he is completely healthy or not. He knows more is expected of him, and he is delivering every single night.
“His leg would probably have to fall off for him to miss a game,” Bosh said.
James tweaked his knee in the third quarter against New York on Sunday when he landed awkwardly while chasing down a lob pass. That didn’t stop him from scoring 12 points and swatting Tyson Chandler in the fourth quarter to lead the Heat to their first win of the season over the Knicks, an important victory for the defending champions to assert themselves in the Eastern Conference.
His knee was examined once the team arrived in Minnesota and no serious damage was found. The Timberwolves had a faint glimmer of hope when James was nowhere to be found when the Heat took the floor about 15 minutes before tipoff. But he came jogging out a few minutes later, then continued his recent pregame routine of throwing down monster dunks to get that knee loosened up and ready to roll.
“My knee responded well from that fall yesterday,” James said. “I’m blessed. It’s nothing really, a little jam when I landed on the floor.”
The dunking display kept right on going after the opening tip. Without big Nikola Pekovic (abdominal strain) roaming the paint, the Heat relentlessly attacked the rim. Their first seven field goals came on dunks or layups, as did 15 of their 20 buckets in the first half.
The Wolves made a mini-run, pulling to 76-70 before the Barea-Allen confrontation, and the Heat pulled away after that.
It’s not as if the Heat have been feasting on cupcakes during their record streak. They’ve taken down the Clippers, Lakers, Rockets, Thunder, Bulls, Grizzlies and Knicks, almost all of them in convincing fashion.
The message is being delivered. This is their time. This is LeBron’s league.
You want the title? Come and get it.
NOTES: The Timberwolves were also missing F Andrei Kirilenko (calf) for the third straight game. … The Heat turned the ball over 24 times and were just 5 for 21 from 3-point range. … Heat C Chris Andersen sparked the team in the second quarter and finished with six points and seven boards. … Heat F Shane Battier played under Adelman in Houston. “One of my favorite players I’ve ever had,” Adelman said. … Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs, who started high school in St. Paul, sat courtside for the game wearing a Heat cap.
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