For one night, it seemed like old times. In the end, though, recent trends fell in line.
The Sixers gave the white-hot Miami Heat a slight scare Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, but once again, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen delivered, this time for a 98-94 victory (see Instant Replay).
The win pushed the Heat's winning streak to 20 games. It’s tied for the third-longest winning streak in NBA history, and it’s the longest streak since the Houston Rockets won 22 in a row during the 2007-08 season.
The NBA record for longest winning streak is 33, set by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72. That team featured four Hall of Famers and went on to win the NBA title that season. The common link with the streaking Heat is Pat Riley, who played for the Lakers long before taking over as team president for Miami.
The Heat still have a long way to go if they are going to threaten the Lakers’ record. They also will have a lot of teams taking aim at them the way the Sixers did on Wednesday night.
The Sixers clawed back after Miami ended the first half on a 23-6 run and were down five entering the fourth quarter. Then they erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth and actually led by three with 3:37 remaining. After trading baskets, the Sixers forged a tie with 1:20 to go when Jrue Holiday drove through the Heat's defense and threw down a dunk over James.
But the Heat’s superstars took over in the final minute with James and Wade combining to go 5 for 6 from the foul line and Wade adding a tip-in over Thad Young and Spencer Hawes with 29.4 seconds left to push the lead to three points.
After Wade’s bucket, the Sixers ran a play in which Holiday found Hawes alone under the basket, but the reverse layup rolled off the rim. Two more foul shots from Wade iced it.
“That’s why they’re able to go on 20-game winning streaks,” Hawes said. “You can’t play that well consistently just going pedal to the metal. They pick their spots and they really press and obviously they have a pretty good formula.”
Afterwards, the Sixers took some solace in the fact that they gave the Heat all they could handle.
“When it came down to it, they made plays. We made plays, too, but they made more,” Holiday said. “It kind of sucks to say it, but we play to the level of our competition. Against the good teams we compete to the end and we step up to the challenge.”
At 24-40, the Sixers have stepped up but haven’t delivered. While the Heat have ripped off 20 wins in a row and 25 out of the last 27 to clinch the first playoff spot of the year, the Sixers have dropped six out of their last seven and 13 out of the last 15. During the Heat’s winning streak, the Sixers have gone 4-16 and now are 8½ games behind the Bucks for the final playoff spot in the East.
So in playing to the level of the competition on Wednesday night, the sold-out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center treated the game as a de facto playoff matchup, creating an atmosphere not seen in the arena since last spring. The fans exploded into a raucous frenzy when Holiday dunked over James and were fired up by Young’s energetic effort.
With Young leading the Sixers with 24 points and 15 rebounds and Holiday adding 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, the Sixers were in a great spot with a minute to go in the game.
But that’s where the Heat thrive.
“At the end, we just couldn’t come up with that one rebound,” coach Doug Collins said. “I thought we executed, got some good shots at the end, but we just couldn’t find a way to get over the top.”
That’s the story of the Sixers’ season.
Just don’t expect them to pack it in. Even though the Sixers have to go 17-1 the rest of the way to finish with a .500 record, Young promises the effort will be there.
“No game is easy. Any team can be beat on any given night, so you have to go out there and always play as hard as you can,” Young said. “I don’t think there’s any pressure on us. Those guys have a streak that they didn’t want to end and we were trying to end it. We’ve got to go out there and figure it out -- just figure out how to beat those guys.”
The Sixers face the Heat once more on April 6. If the streak stays alive, the Heat could be attempting to tie the Lakers’ record against the Sixers.
Next, the Sixers host the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night before facing the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.