CLEVELAND — Miami’s winning streak was in danger of disappearing — in the most unimaginable setting.
LeBron James wouldn’t give up.
“That guy right there doesn’t want to lose in this building," teammate Dwyane Wade said, nodding toward James. “Not tonight."
James scored 25 points as the 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. Once believed to be untouchable, the mark is now within reach.
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 in 42 minutes, the Heat inched closer to history and matched the NBA’s biggest comeback this season, according to STATS.
“This was one of the most bizarre, unique days of my life with everything that happened," said James, referring to a homecoming in which a fan ran onto the floor and the opening tip was delayed 35 minutes by a leaky scoreboard. “It also was one of the best comebacks I’ve ever been a part of."
James had 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in the fourth as Miami rallied to win for the second game in a row. The Heat were down 17 points — 13 in the fourth quarter — and stormed back to beat Boston 105-103 on Monday and surpass the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest streak in NBA history.
“I knew there was a lot of time, so we never panicked," James said. “We were down 27 with 18 minutes left. That’s a lifetime in basketball."
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, but just 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.
Also on Wednesday:
Grizzlies 90, Thunder 89: MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Marc Gasol tipped in Zach Randolph’s miss with less than a second left in overtime, lifting Memphis past Oklahoma City. In a game that had all the intensity of a playoff matchup, Jerryd Bayless connected from the top of the key for Memphis with 3.7 seconds left in regulation to tie it at 83.
Knicks 106, Magic 94: NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points to lead New York over Orlando after missing the previous three games with a knee injury.
Hawks 98, Bucks 90: ATLANTA — Jeff Teague scored 27 points and Al Horford had 26, taking control after a sluggish first quarter to lead Atlanta past Milwaukee.
Bobcats 107, Raptors 101: CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Byron Mullens scored 25 points, Gerald Henderson had another solid all-around game and Charlotte beat Toronto to win consecutive games for the first time since mid-November.
Nets 113, Mavericks 96: DALLAS — Brook Lopez led Brooklyn with 38 points and Deron Williams had 31 in his first visit to Dallas since spurning his hometown team in free agency.
Hornets 87, Celtics 86: NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis outreached Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green for a last-second tip-in, and the Hornets snapped a four-game skid.
Spurs 104, Warriors 93: SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan had 25 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four blocks, leading San Antonio to the win.
Rockets 100, Jazz 93: HOUSTON — James Harden scored 29 points to help Houston improve its positioning in the Western Conference playoff race.
Wizards 88, Suns 79: PHOENIX — John Wall scored 19 points and Washington picked up its first victory at Phoenix in more than six years.
Clippers 101, 76ers 72: LOS ANGELES — Chris Paul scored 19 points, Caron Butler added 14 and Los Angeles bounced back on the second night of back-to-back games.