MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Heat are cruising through their best stretch since an epic winning streak earlier this year. That’s not likely to change against the Charlotte Bobcats – even if LeBron James doesn’t play.
It’s possible James misses a game for the first time this season as the Heat seek a 10th straight win overall and 14th in a row over the visiting Bobcats on Sunday night.
After finishing with 27 points in a 90-83 win at Toronto on Friday, James is averaging 27.6 points on 61.1 percent shooting – including 14 of 28 from 3-point range – during Miami’s nine-game winning streak.
It’s the franchise’s longest run since its 27-game streak Feb. 3-March 25 that was the second-longest in NBA history.
James, though, said after the contest that he was looking forward to Saturday’s day off after injuring his back in a collision with Toronto’s Tyler Hansbrough. According to reports, it’s possible the reigning MVP could be held out of Sunday’s game.
“It bothered me throughout (Friday’s) game,” said James, who hasn’t sat out since some relatively meaningless regular-season games in April. “That’s definitely a step backwards, but we’ll see what happens the next couple of days.”
The Heat (13-3) won 89-79 in Charlotte on April 5 even with James and Dwyane Wade out due to minor injuries, then they beat the Hornets for the 13th straight time with a 97-81 road win Nov. 16 when James scored 30. He’s shot 80.4 percent (37 of 46) in his last three games against them, averaging 31.3 points.
Wade had a season-low four points in that last meeting, bothered by a knee problem which caused him to miss the next two games. He’s scored more than 20 points in all four games since returning, averaging 23.0 while hitting 62.7 percent from the field.
Chris Bosh hasn’t been much help offensively, scoring 5.7 per game on 7-of-24 shooting in the last three, but he helped Miami hold all of those opponents below 40.0 percent from the field.
The Bobcats (8-9) have not shot better than 35.0 percent in any of the last three meetings with the Heat, and they’ve averaged 86.9 points during their 13-game skid in the series.
Charlotte’s Kemba Walker finished with 22 points in the first meeting this season and had 20 in a 109-77 loss in the team’s most recent trip to Miami on March 24. Walker, however, has totaled 25 while missing 21 of 27 shots in his last two games overall.
Behind Al Jefferson’s season highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds, the Bobcats snapped a two-game skid with a 92-76 victory over Eastern Conference-worst Milwaukee on Friday.
Jefferson, who has battled a nagging ankle injury all season, has posted 18.0 points per game over his last four.
“We have to get him the ball deeper (in the paint) consistently if we’re going to beat the best teams,” said first-year coach Steve Clifford, whose club is among the league’s worst offensively with 88.6 points per game and 40.7 field-goal shooting.
Things aren’t likely to get any easier against a Miami team that has given up an average of 90.9 points on 41.1 percent shooting during its streak.
Bobcats starting forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is expected to return after missing one game due to plantar fasciitis.
Charlotte has won four of five on the road but has dropped seven straight in Miami.
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