LeBron James;  Jonas Valanciunas

Heat beat Raptors to earn 22nd straight victory


The streak continues for the Heat. After a 108-91 road victory over the Raptors on Sunday afternoon, Miami has now won 22 consecutive games.

The Heat controlled this one from very early on, leading by as many as 16 points in the first half, despite the Raptors out-rebounding them by 19 over the game’s first two periods. Miami overcame this by shooting a blistering 61.8 percent from the field in the half, led by 17 points from LeBron James.

Toronto threatened briefly with a 16-3 run that lasted from 4:42 to go in the third quarter through the first minute of the fourth, tying the game at 77. Miami responded as they so often do, with a quick 10-0 run to push the lead back to double digits in less than three minutes.

Ray Allen got into the lane for a runner, DeMar DeRozan launched an airball from 19 feet, Dwyane Wade finished an alley-oop dunk off a pass from Norris Cole, John Lucas III bricked a three-pointer early in the shot clock, Allen hit a three on the other end, at that was essentially that.

The run by the Heat reached 12-0 before the Raptors scored again, and came while James was on the bench getting his customary rest to begin the fourth period. It ultimately was a 28-4 run before all was said and one, capped off by a three-pointer from Shane Battier to push the lead to 24 with 4:39 remaining.

Wade led the Heat with 24 points on 10-15 shooting, to go along with nine assists. The Heat were killed on the boards the entire game, and finished with 25 fewer rebounds than the Raptors. But they maintained their high shooting percentage throughout, and finished the game at 58.2 percent.

Next up for Miami is a trip to Boston to face the Celtics on Monday, who gave the Heat some bulletin board material a couple of days ago when Paul Pierce and Jason Terry said they weren’t impressed with the Heat’s winning ways.

Kevin Garnett is questionable, but even if he plays, expect Miami to have a little extra something prepared for that one.

The streak will end eventually, but it will likely be on a night when we least expect it. The Heat are simply playing too well and are too focused to let one slip away against a team that, on paper, might have a better chance to beat them than most.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.