This winning streak is something for the Miami Heat to savor.
Dwyane Wade scored 23 points and on a night where the stat sheet would suggest a struggle, the Heat rolled once again, extending their winning streak to 19 games and leading wire-to-wire in beating the Atlanta Hawks 98-81 on Tuesday.
"Let's be honest, guys," James said. "We're not sitting here and saying this is not something special. This is an unbelievable streak that we're on. We're playing great basketball. We're winning in different phases of the game, we're playing different styles, we've won every game, on the road, at home, double-overtime games, end-of-regulation games, whatever the case may be."
James scored 15 points and Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers added 14 apiece for the Heat, who matched the fifth-longest streak in NBA history. They will try for their 20th straight win on Wednesday at Philadelphia, the start of a five-game trip.
Only three teams have won at least 20 consecutive games in the same season: the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (33), the 2007-08 Houston Rockets (22) and the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (20). The Washington Capitols also won 20 straight, spanning the end of the 1947-48 season and the start of the 1948-49 campaign.
"Ten is enough for me," Bosh said. "Twenty's cool. I'd take it."
Josh Smith scored 15 for the Hawks, who got 12 apiece from Al Horford and Jeff Teague.
"Miami is playing very well right now. You have to give credit where credit is due," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "Coach (Erik) Spoelstra and his staff over there are doing a great job. Their team is really moving the basketball, they are playing together, they are playing at a very, very high level right now, and they're really good right now. We just got beat by a really good basketball team."
That is, by a really good basketball team that had something really far removed from a really good offensive night.
The Heat shot only 43 percent and James was just 3 for 11 from the field, with the field-goal total matching his lowest from any regular-season game in more than three years.
And they won by 17.
"We read the game, we find ways to win, we find ways within the game that we can make adjustments," Wade said. "So yeah, it is kind of slowing down a little bit."
Ray Allen scored 12 and Udonis Haslem grabbed 11 rebounds for the Heat. The crowd was 20,350, a record at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Miami now leads San Antonio by 1½ games in the race for the NBA's best record and is atop the Eastern Conference by 9½ games over Indiana and New York, who were both idle Tuesday. The Heat (48-14) have 20 games left, while the Pacers have 19 and the Knicks 21.
It was the first game where the Heat went without trailing since Feb. 14, when they won at Oklahoma City in a surprisingly one-sided NBA Finals rematch. They've needed buzzer-beaters and double-overtimes and big rallies to win several times since, often against opponents who won't be headed to the playoffs, teams like Orlando and Cleveland and Sacramento.
The Hawks are headed to the postseason — barring a most improbable collapse, anyway — but this one was never in doubt.
Seven Miami players logged more than 3½ minutes of time in the first quarter, all seven of them scored, and the snowball started rolling. James was falling down near the 3-point line on one possession, yet still had the sense to just tap the ball to Wade for a layup that gave Miami an early 17-8 lead. And later, after Haslem missed inside, he got the rebound and fed Allen for a step-back corner 3-pointer that swished.
Yes, it's going that well for Miami right now.
"Leading with our defense has been the key for us," Wade said. "When we come out defensive minded from the beginning of the game, it gets us into the game, it gets us on the offensive end, we're moving the ball. We have been playing well offensively all year, but defense is the key."
The Hawks closed to 41-40 midway through the second quarter, the third — and last — time they were within a point. Miami needed just over two minutes to score the next 10 points, the run both starting and ending with 3-pointers from Chalmers, and the margin was 51-40.
As if the Heat needed any more help late in the first half, the often-enigmatic Smith gave them a little boost.
For no apparent reason, Smith fouled Bosh with 0.1 seconds left until intermission — doing so about 80 feet from the Heat basket. Miami was in the bonus, so Bosh took two free throws, made both, and the Heat went into the break with a 57-44 lead.
An hour later, they were packing for Philadelphia and a chance to win No. 20.
"It's a privilege for us to get in our cars and hop on a plane and get into Philly at 4 a.m. after this win and do this again tomorrow night," Spoelstra said. "That's the way we're going to approach it. No excuses."
NOTES: James was called for goaltending after blocking a shot by Ivan Johnson late in the third quarter. James didn't like the call, and if that wasn't enough, he swatted the ball into the leg of Bosh's wife, Adrienne, who was seated courtside. She was fine. ... The Hawks lost Teague with 3:08 left in the third quarter after he turned his left ankle. He returned to the bench later in the period after getting re-taped, but did not return to the game. ... Heat assistant coach David Fizdale shared a warm embrace with Drew a few moments before the game. Fizdale is a former Atlanta assistant.
LAKERS 106, MAGIC 97
ORLANDO, Fla. — Dwight Howard scored a season-high 39 points, had 16 rebounds and was sent to the free throw line 39 times by his former team as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Orlando Magic, 106-97 on Tuesday night.
The victory came in Howard's first return to Orlando since his drama-filled offseason trade to the Lakers. He endured a chorus of boos throughout, and tied his own NBA record for free throw attempts.
The majority of them came as the Magic tried to employ an intentional foul strategy. It backfired, though, as the All-Star center hit on 16 of 20 attempts in the second half.
The victory was the Lakers' fourth straight.
Jameer Nelson led Orlando with 21 points.
MAVERICKS 115, BUCKS 108
MILWAUKEE — Vince Carter hit three key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and scored 23 points off the bench as Dallas won its fourth straight.
Dirk Nowitzki added 19 points while O.J. Mayo had 14. Mavericks rookie and former Marquette star Jae Crowder, last year's Big East player of the year, was one off his career high with 14 points.
Monta Ellis scored 32 points for the Bucks, giving him 20 or more in all six of Milwaukee's games this month. Mike Dunleavy added 18 points while J.J. Redick had 17. Larry Sanders had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Mavericks, who are three games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race, matched their longest winning streak of the season and have won five of six.
NETS 108, HORNETS 98
NEW YORK — Brook Lopez scored 26 points and had a big dunk over twin brother Robin, Deron Williams added 21 points and 13 assists, and Brooklyn beat New Orleans.
Brooklyn squandered a 10-point lead in the third quarter before pulling off some timely baskets in the fourth to hang on for the win, bouncing back from a poor performance in a loss Monday at Philadelphia.
Eric Gordon led New Orleans with 24 points. Robin Lopez had 15 points for the Hornets, who played without leading scorer Ryan Anderson because of the flu.
TIMBERWOLVES 107, SPURS 83
MINNEAPOLIS — Ricky Rubio had his first career triple-double with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, leading Minnesota over San Antonio.
Rubio made 9 of 17 shots and grabbed his 10th board with 9:14 to play in the game, giving his home fans something to cheer about in a long, frustrating season. Alexey Shved broke out of a big slump to score 16 points and J.J. Barea added 17 points for the Wolves, who hit 12 3-pointers.
Stephen Jackson had 14 points and Danny Green 10 for the Spurs, who left Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard at home to rest after they throttled Oklahoma City on Monday night. San Antonio turned the ball over 17 times.
BOBCATS 100, CELTICS 74
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gerald Henderson had a career-high 35 points, and Charlotte snapped a 10-game losing streak by beating Boston.
Henderson was 11 of 19 from the field and knocked down all 12 of his foul shots.
Ben Gordon scored 17 points and new starting forward Josh McRoberts had his first double-double for Charlotte with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The Bobcats (14-50) doubled last season's win total and posted their largest margin of victory this season.
The Celtics, playing without Paul Pierce, looked like a team that has played nine of its last 11 games on the road. Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford each had 14 points for Boston.
CAVALIERS 95, WIZARDS 90
CLEVELAND — Dion Waiters scored 20 points, Alonzo Gee added 17 and Cleveland held off a late run to beat Washington.
Cleveland played its first game since Kyrie Irving sprained his left shoulder Sunday against Toronto. The All-Star point guard, who watched the game from the bench with his left arm in a sling, could miss the next month — and maybe the rest of this season. The Cavaliers are 5-10 without him this season.
Cleveland led 90-78 with 4:29 remaining, but the Wizards cut the margin to 91-88 with 45 seconds remaining. Waiters, who scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, hit four free throws in the final 13.1 seconds to secure the win.
John Wall led Washington with a season-high 27 points.