7:30 PM ET, April 11, 2014
AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, FL
On Friday, they just blew by them.
Control of the Eastern Conference again belongs to the Heat, after LeBron James scored 36 points and the two-time defending NBA champions opened the second half with a 16-0 run on the way to beating the Pacers 98-86 -- a win that vaulted Miami a half-game ahead of Indiana in the race for a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
"This is not the biggest game we've played in our four years together," James said. "It's always great to have competitive games like this in the regular season. I mean, we've played Game 7 in the Finals before. It doesn't get no bigger than that."
True, but this had plenty of meaning.
Miami (54-25) leads the Pacers (54-26) by the slimmest of margins in the East race. The Heat play at Atlanta on Saturday, at Washington on Monday and then close at home against Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Win them all, and the road to the East title goes through Miami, again.
"We know what's going on out there," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "We know what's going to happen. We're in the middle of trying to put everything together for ourselves and I think today was a good step forward for us."
Mario Chalmers scored 13, Udonis Haslem added 11 and Bosh and Ray Allen each scored 10 for the Heat, who had lost two straight and were looking up at Indiana for much of the season in the East standings.
Paul George scored 22 for Indiana, which got 18 from David West, 12 from Luis Scola and 11 from Lance Stephenson. Pacers center. Roy Hibbert had only five points and one rebound, grabbing it with just over 2 minutes left in the game.
"We're still a good basketball team," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "I think we're taking steps to get ready."
The Pacers -- who sat their starters against Milwaukee on Wednesday in an effort to rest for this one, and have insisted throughout this season that they wanted the No. 1 seed after losing a Game 7 in Miami to close the East finals a year ago -- still play Oklahoma City and Orlando.
"As of now it's not in our hands," George said, "and we're perfectly fine with it."
After a few minutes of the third quarter, this game wasn't in Indiana's hands, either.
Chalmers opened the 16-0 barrage with a 3-pointer, James hit a pair of free throws after taking a hard foul from West in transition, and a steal and layup from Toney Douglas forced the Pacers to call time down by 10.
Miami was just getting started.
James got fouled by Stephenson and turned that into a three-point play, and consecutive putbacks by Haslem off misses by James at the rim pushed Miami's lead to 17 with 8:13 left in the third.
That led to Indiana's second timeout of the quarter.
And a couple of minutes later, the Pacers were up to more timeouts taken since halftime (three) than points scored (two). Indiana's first field goal of the half came when Bosh was called for goaltending on a shot by Luis Scola with 6 minutes left.
"We just stalled out," West said.
Hibbert, the 7-foot-2 center who has simply toyed with Miami plenty of times in the clubs' recent meetings, played 16 first-half minutes with basically nothing to show for his time. He went into the break with no field-goal attempts and no rebounds -- the first time he's ever logged that many minutes in a half without at least one shot or board.
"We've got to get more from him," Vogel said.
Miami's lead was eventually as much as 23, and it was 76-54 when the Pacers started to make things look interesting.
Indiana scored 13 straight points, getting within 76-67. But Evan Turner was whistled for a technical after arguing a non-call from two possessions earlier, Allen made a free throw to end the Heat drought, and that started a 9-0 rebuttal run by the Heat.
Rashard Lewis ended that spurt with a dunk, good enough to earn him a chest-bump from James moments later, and Miami was up by 18 again. A few minutes later, the game was over, the standings had flipped and Miami was on top.
"I would love to see us play with this intensity, to our identity, tomorrow night," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "If we do that, the results seem to take care of themselves."
Miami kept Dwyane Wade (hamstring) out for the ninth straight game, and Greg Oden was still sidelined by back spasms. ... Haslem is Miami's all-time leader in offensive rebounds, grabbing the 1,506th of his career in the second quarter. ... From the Department of Go Figure: Miami went 0-4 against Brooklyn, Indiana went 4-0 against Brooklyn, so the Heat and Pacers went 2-2 against each other.
MIAMI, FL - April 11: Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers takes a shot against the Miami Heat at the American...(Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Next 5 Games
Paul George scored 7 of his 22 points when guarded by LeBron James Friday. George committed three of his four turnovers when James was his primary defender.[+]
The Miami Heat scored 44 points in the paint Friday, including nine during the team's 20-4 run to start the third quarter. Entering the game the Pacers were allowing 35.6 points in the paint per game, the fewest in the league.
Even if the Pacers get the 1 seed - they won't have an easy road to the Eastern Conference Finals. If the playoffs began today, they'd be matched up with the Hawks in the First Round. Indiana is just 2-2 against Atlanta this season and the Hawks dominated the last meeting with a 107-88 win on April 6th in Indiana.[+]
Pacers vs Potential Playoff Opponents
Over the last 21 games, Miami's defensive efficiency has been nearly identical to its hot start (allowing 102.8 points per 100 possessions through the first 57 games compared to 102.3 over the last 21 games). The problem has been on the offensive end where the Heat are averaging 3.7 points fewer per 100. Miami's been playing at an extremely slow pace as well, averaging 90.6 possessions per 48 minutes over its last 21 games - well below its average of 94.3 through the first 57 games of the season.[+]
Heat This Season
The Pacers lead the Heat by a half game for 1st place in the Eastern Conference (teams are tied in the loss column). The importance of home-court for the Pacers? Indiana is 6-1 in home games against the Heat dating back to the start of last season compared to 1-5 on the road. And should they face a Game 7 - home teams are 91-23 all-time in Game 7s (.798 win pct). If the Heat and Pacers finish the regular season tied, the Pacers have already clinched the tiebreaker.
Roy Hibbert is averaging just 4.7 rebounds in 28.5 minutes of action per game since the All-Star Break. His player efficiency rating of 9.8 during that span is well below the 16.2 he posted before the break.[+]
Roy Hibbert Before and After All-Star Break
In their pursuit of homecourt in the East, the Pacers starters have played the 6th-most minutes in the NBA.. Easily the most by any of top teams in the standings. In all, Pacers starters have played the equivalent of 5 more GAMES this season than those of the Miami Heat.[+]
Minutes Played by Starters This Season - Top 2 Teams in Each Conference
The Pacers' recent struggles can be blamed in large part on the glass. For the season, the Pacers are 3rd in the NBA in rebounding margin (+3.5), but opponents have outrebounded or tied Indiana on the glass in each of the last 6 games, and in 9 of the last 10 games. Prior to that, Indiana had outrebounded its opponents in 45 of its first 69 games, and the Pacers' longest stretch of being matched or beaten on the glass over that stretch was 3 games.[+]
Pacers Rebounding This Season
The Pacers are just 8-12 over their last 20 games after entering that stretch at 46-13. Indiana's once dominant defense hasn't been the same over the last 20 games. The Pacers are allowing 8.5 more points per 100 possessions during that span and the offense has also dropped off quite considerably as well.[+]
Pacers This Season
NBA history tells us that the eventual champion did not struggle down the stretch. Just two NBA champs ... the 1957-58 St. Louis Hawks and 1968-69 Boston Celtics ... played sub-.500 ball after the All-Star break. This season, the Pacers are just 14-and-14 since the break, while the Heat are 17-and-11.[+]
WORST WIN PCT AFTER ALL-STAR BREAK
The Heat are just 10-11 over their last 21 games. Dwyane Wade has missed 11 of those games. So that's the problem, right? Not so fast ... The Heat are just 3-7 in the last 10 games Wade has played.
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