MIAMI – LeBron James and company put on quite a show for some of the biggest names in sports on Sunday night.
James finished with 32 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, Chris Bosh added 15 points and the Miami Heat won their 26th straight game, cruising to a 109-77 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.
The world’s best were courtside in Miami. Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s tennis player. Wladimir Klitschko, the world heavyweight boxing king. Rory McIlroy, who sits atop the golf rankings for at least one more night.
And James responded with another sterling performance, making 11 of 14 shots while helping Miami move within seven wins of matching the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for the league record of 33 in a row.
Norris Cole scored 15 and Ray Allen added 14 for the Heat, who played without Dwyane Wade, held from the lineup because of right knee soreness that the team believes is minor.
After overcoming yet another slow start, Miami begins a four-game road trip in Orlando tonday, a swing that will also take the Heat to Chicago, New Orleans and San Antonio.
Charlotte led by 11 in the early going and was within five in the third quarter, but two huge spurts by the Heat were more than enough to put the game away. Miami used a 31-6 run in the first half to erase the deficit, and a 26-5 blitz in the second half finished the job.
Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 20 points, and Gerald Henderson had 18.
James departed with about 8 minutes left, after perhaps the highlight of the night. Chris Andersen blocked a layup try by Walker, doing so with such force that the ball caromed right back into play and basically started a Miami fast break on its own. James capped the sequence with a spectacular dunk, his final points of the night.
Djokovic clapped and smiled. McIlroy – who could lose his No. 1 ranking if Tiger Woods holds on and wins at Bay Hill today – turned toward Heat owner Micky Arison and grinned. Klitschko’s facial expression was one of disbelief.
By then, the only order of business was for some fans to sing “Happy Birthday” to Bosh, which happened with about 3 minutes left. He turned 29 Sunday.
The final score made it look easy, but there were a few frustrating minutes for Miami.
On Friday night, after a third straight game of falling behind by double digits in the early going and not coming out with the sort of energy they’ve grown accustomed to displaying, the Heat said they had to improve on those fronts.
Maybe those improvements will happen today.
The Bobcats and Heat played three times during 2012, and Charlotte never led for a single second in any of those contests. The Bobcats did lead by five points when the teams played in Miami this past Feb. 4, but hadn’t held a double-digit lead over the Heat since December 2011.
That is, until Sunday.
Atlanta 104, Milwaukee 99: Al Horford scored 24 points to help the visiting Atlanta Hawks rally for a 104-99 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Josh Smith added 23 points and nine rebounds for the Hawks, who trailed 98-95 with 1:05 remaining. Devin Harris added 16 points and Jeff Teague finished with 14.
Smith converted a layup with 33.8 seconds to tie it at 99. After the Bucks turned it over, Dahntay Jones was fouled. He made the first and missed the second, but Anthony Tolliver grabbed the rebound for Atlanta and called timeout.
Horford was fouled with 20.1 seconds remaining and hit both free throws to give the Hawks a 102-99 lead. Monta Ellis missed a 3-pointer for Milwaukee, and Teague made two foul shots to put the game away.