ORLANDO, Fla. | LeBron James had 51 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, including a 23-point first quarter, to lead Miami to a 104-100 victory over Orlando on Thursday night.
It was a season high for James, whose scoring effort tied for the fifth most points of his career.
The Heat exploited a thin Magic front line that was missing injured starting forward Brandon Bass. They led by as many as 23 points. Dwyane Wade added 15 points and Chris Bosh 13.
The victory was the Heat’s fourth straight. The Magic lost for the fourth time in their last six and fell behind 2-1 in the season series with Miami.
The Heat led by 16 entering the final period and 90-69 before the Magic went on a 19-4 run, capped by Gilbert Arenas’ 3-pointer to cut the lead to 94-88 with 1:51 remaining in the game.
But James responded with his own trey with the shot clock winding down to give Miami a 97-88 cushion.
A missed 3-pointer by Richardson on the other end was rebounded by James, who was fouled and hit one of two free throws. Another 3 by Richardson cut the lead to 98-91 with 51.1 seconds left.
Nelson hit a layup to trim it to 98-93 and then 99-95 with a pair of free throws with 22.5 to play.
Following a pair of free throws by James to make it 103-97, Nelson hit a 3-pointer with 9.4 seconds left. The Heat lost the ball on the ensuing inbounds play, but the Magic were unable to tie it on their next possession. Wade hit a free throw to provide the final margin.
The Heat led 55-45 at the half as James picked apart the Magic defense with a combination of mid-range jumpers and runners in the lane.
He hit his first 11 shots of the night and finished the half with 29 points. His fast start helped Miami shoot a blistering 58 percent from the field in opening 24 minutes.
Howard had 16 points and Turkoglu 11 to help keep the Magic within striking distance, as James’ teammates combined for just 26 points. Bosh had nine first-half points and Wade had five points, but they were a combined 4 of 11 from the field.
James started his scoring spree in the opening 12 minutes, going right at Turkoglu and later Earl Clark when he came in off the bench.
He had 23 points the period, hitting all nine of his field goal attempts and going 5 for 6 at the free throw line, as the Heat took a 30-26 lead into the second quarter.