Heat end Lakers' 8-win streak to clinch playoff spot, snap 5-game skid

MIAMI -- Less than 2 minutes to go, tie game, Kobe Bryant with the basketball and staring down Dwyane Wade.

Bryant's move was good.

Wade's reaction was better.

And in that moment, Miami's epic run of blown opportunities late in games started coming to an end.

Wade's steal set up LeBron James for the dunk that put Miami ahead to stay with 1:27 left, Chris Bosh scored 24 points in his first outing after saying he wanted more shots, and the Heat beat the Los Angeles Lakers 94-88 on Thursday night to end a five-game losing streak and hand the two-time defending NBA champions their first loss in nine games.

"We had everything riding on this game, really, to be honest with you," Bosh said.

Wade scored eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and James finished with 19 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for Miami, which secured a postseason bid with 17 games left -- the earliest that's happened in franchise history.

That was an ancillary point: Winning again was all that mattered.

"We didn't want to run away from this," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We didn't want to hide from any of this. We want to get better. We want to make sure our game is right and ready when it really counts."

Bryant scored 24 points for the Lakers, who got 20 from Pau Gasol. Andrew Bynum finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds for Los Angeles.

Bryant and Wade tangled again after the steal led to the go-ahead basket, when Bryant tried a 3-pointer with 1:06 left. Wade was credited with a block, and Bryant said afterward he was fouled.

"It's clearly evident," Bryant said.

Said Wade: "I didn't."

That wasn't the lone bit of verbal jousting the teams engaged in Thursday.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson -- who's shown a flair for poking the Heat more than once this season -- struck again before tipoff when he likened Miami's tendencies to what you'd see in an Xbox video game.

"I'm not a big fan of the style that Miami plays," Jackson said.

He might like it less now, after the Heat finished off a season sweep of the defending champions.

"Good game," Jackson said in a very hasty postgame availability. "They played better than we did. I'm sure we'll see them again sometime, I'm sure."

For their part, the Heat were unfazed by Jackson's latest salvo. Wade laughed and rolled his eyes, and James dismissed it.

"You don't get too caught up in Phil's commentary," James said. "Phil's going to be Phil."

The final minutes hardly seemed like a team with an eight-game winning streak facing a team on a five-game losing streak.

It was theater, the out-of-your-seat, roaring-after-every-play variety.

Start with 4:42 left in the fourth quarter, when the game was tied for the 17th time by Gasol making two free throws, knotting things at 82-82.

Wade changed speeds for separation and drove past Bryant, putting Miami back on top, so Bryant -- who had missed 9 of his past 11 shots -- came down on the ensuing possession and hit a 3-pointer from near the Heat bench.

They were just getting started.

Bryant made another 3-pointer -- officially, it went into the books as 28 feet, though it seemed longer -- with 2:26 left to tie the game at 88. A minute later, Wade got his steal, James got his dunk, and Miami wouldn't trail again.

"D-Wade accepted the challenge," James said.

Miami went up four when James freed Wade with a screen against Bryant for a layup with 46.0 seconds left. Bryant lost the ball under the Lakers' basket five seconds later, and then James put it away with two free throws with 19.2 seconds remaining.

"We didn't protect the rim," said Bryant, whose team shot 29 percent in the second half. "We've done a good job and then in the fourth quarter we let Wade get all the way to the basket on those screen-and-roll actions and it cost us."

James went nearly 19 minutes without scoring in one stretch, until a layup with 5:20 left in the third gave Miami a 62-59 lead. When his drought ended, the entire Heat team started one.

The Lakers had a 9-0 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer from Derek Fisher. But Miami answered, scoring six of the final eight points of the period and getting within 70-68 when James stepped back and hit a 20-footer over Ron Artest with 0.2 seconds remaining.

So with that, Miami got a buzzer-beater to end the first quarter, the last basket of the second, and another beat-the-clock score to close the third.

The Heat have lost 11 times this season when having a chance to take the lead or tie the game in the final 12 seconds.

This one didn't go down to the absolute wire, though. Miami took care of it before the final moments.

"We knew this game was going to come down to the end ... We had to figure out a way and find a way, and we did that," Wade said.

Game notes
Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton was courtside -- in a Bryant jersey. He's a native of the Los Angeles area. ... Magic Johnson sat opposite the Miami bench, with Heat president Pat Riley. ... Juwan Howard appeared in the first quarter for Miami, the first time that's happened since Jan. 28. ... The Heat plan to honor Tim James, their 1999 first-round pick who enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Iraq when his playing career was over, when they host Denver on March 19.