He passed with flying colors, and looked good as new afterward.
James scored 27 points after a three-game absence caused by a strained right hamstring, five other Miami players reached double figures and the Heat moved closer to securing home-court advantage for the entire NBA playoffs by topping the Philadelphia 76ers 106-87 on Saturday night.
"He knows his body better than anybody," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "So he knew how to pace himself and put his fingerprints on the game."
Playing only 31 minutes, James made 12 of 17 shots from the field and added five assists and four rebounds. Rashard Lewis scored 14 points, Norris Cole added 13 and Chris Andersen grabbed 15 rebounds—as many as he had in any two previous games this season combined—for the Heat, whose magic number for clinching the league's best regular-season record was trimmed to two.
Miami moved to 60-16, one win shy of matching the franchise single-season record. The Heat got there after outscoring Philadelphia 29-11 in the fourth quarter.
"It's special," James said. "We've got a special team. We've been saying that all year. We don't take this moment for granted. There's not many teams in NBA history that have won 60 games."
Jrue Holiday scored 18 points for Philadelphia, which got 14 from Evan Turner and an 11-point, 11-rebound night from Spencer Hawes.
"That's a championship team, a veteran team, so they know how to close games," Wright said. "But I'm not taking anything from us. I think effort was there. We played hard."
The Heat were without Dwyane Wade (sore ankle and knee) and Chris Bosh (sore right knee).
A steal and dunk from James with 2:41 left just about sealed the outcome, giving the Heat—who led by just one entering the final quarter—what was then their biggest lead, a 16-point margin at 101-85.
Miami has now beaten Philadelphia in 19 of the teams' last 20 meetings, including playoffs. In the regular season only, it's 15 straight wins for the Heat.
"I can't remember the last time we beat them," Hawes said.
And while Miami will go into the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 1 seed, a disappointing season for the 76ers is winding down without a single appearance from Andrew Bynum. The 76ers will miss the playoffs, after Milwaukee wrapped up the last of the Eastern Conference's eight available spots with a win over Toronto later Saturday night.
"We swung for the fences," Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. "And I give our organization a lot of credit. We went for a home run and unfortunately it didn't work for us this year. But I will tell you, the guys in the locker room, I'm incredibly proud at how hard they've played every single night. We've competed and we've had some really tough losses but we can only grow from that."
Spoelstra said before the game that he would carefully manage James' minutes, and he wasn't kidding.
James checked out for the first time after playing 7:45 of the opening quarter, his shortest stint to open a regular-season game since October 2010—his first week of action with the Heat.
Then again, it didn't seem like the Heat would exactly need much from James at that point.
Miami made its first four 3-point attempts, shot 64 percent in the opening quarter compared with 29 by Philadelphia, and led 33-18—outscoring the 76ers 20-5 over the final 6:44.
Things flip-flopped in the second quarter.
Philadelphia started dominating from the field (55 percent to Miami's 30), and a 15-8 rebounding edge that quarter helped the 76ers pull within 50-46 at the break. For Miami, it was a statistically odd half, with the Heat far better from outside the 3-point arc—8 for 13—than its 13-of-32 pace from 2-point range in the opening 24 minutes.
"It was a good win," Spoelstra said. "The guys worked the game."
Holiday scored 11 in the third quarter, including a 3-for-3 effort from 3-point range, and the 76ers were within 77-76 entering the fourth. But the Heat started the final quarter strong. James found Ray Allen for a 3-pointer with 6 minutes left that pushed Miami's lead back to 10, and win No. 60 was in the books a short time later.
For the Heat, 60 wins sounds nice, but it's all about 16—the number of postseason wins needed to capture the NBA title.
"I don't think the number matters, the number that you get to, because anything happens when you get to the playoffs," Allen said. "When you see teams that do have 60 wins, it does incite a little fear, because you know that they were pretty good and consistent throughout the regular season. We hope that plays in our favor, but for the most part, no team cares about what happens in the regular season anyway."
NOTES: James made a third-quarter jumper to become the 32nd player in NBA history to eclipse the 21,000-point mark for his career. ... Miami has six games left, starting with a potential first-round playoff preview with Milwaukee at home on Tuesday. ... The Heat led by a single point after three quarters in both visits by Philadelphia this season.