By Tom Withers
The Associated Press
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.
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 disinterested 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 by matching the biggest comeback in the NBA this season, according to STATS.
James had 14 points in the fourth as Miami completed its second straight comeback. The Heat rallied from 17 down — 13 in the fourth quarter — to beat Boston 105-103 Monday night and snap a tie with the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.
Although the Cavs were missing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao — 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.
Mario Chalmers added 17 points and Dwyane Wade had 11 for the Heat, who outscored the Cavs 30-18 in the fourth quarter and 64-40 in the second half.
Wayne Ellington had 20 points and Tristan Thompson 18 for Cleveland, which went from a stunning upset to blowing the biggest lead in a loss in franchise history.
Down by nine to open the fourth, the Heat were up 95-86 with 3:02 left and seemed to have the Cavaliers on the ropes.
But Cleveland bounced back and closed to 96-95 on Thompson’s two free throws with 44 seconds to go. Wade then missed a jumper, but Ellington misfired on a step-back 23-footer with 5.2 seconds to go.
James was fouled and stepped to the line and dropped both free throws to make it 98-95.
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