There have been bigger games for the Miami Heat in recent years, but it felt like at least for this season, there has been no better moment for LeBron James to shine, leading his team to a 98-86 win over the Indiana Pacers, and once again capturing the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
James scored 36 points, averaging 34.8 points per game and once again made life quite difficult for Paul George in the moments he was guarding him. More importantly, the Heat showed just how much better they can be than the Pacers when playing at home, and took the right step towards making sure they’ll be the ones getting an extra home game in the potential Eastern Conference Finals we’ll get between these two teams.
Dwyane Wade didn’t play once again and neither did Greg Oden. The rotation for the Heat looks quite weird at the moment, with someone like Michael Beasley getting only one minute while Rashard Lewis plays 20 and takes eight shots (1-of-8) from the field, but a much more focused and intense look from the team compared to more recent games, not to mention a huge run against a stunned Pacers team in the third quarter made all of the difference.
The rest the Pacers’ starters got in the game against the Bucks didn’t make much of a difference. There still seems to be the same problems that one night of rest isn’t going to fix, and it’s more than just team chemistry. Teams move well enough on defense to make the Pacers look so slow and incapable, and Roy Hibbert is in another dimension of ineptitude right now, not producing any numbers but worse: He’s not stopping anyone from getting to the rim.
Having Udonis Haslem back in the lineup was extremely healthy. Not just that extra toughness the Heat seemed to need (grabbed nine rebounds) but like in last year’s series, whenever he was open someone find him for that shot, and Haslem scored 11 points, finishing with 5-of-7 from the field. Mario Chalmers scored 13 points and Chris Bosh finished with 10 points, but this, and most recent games, have been about James taking over.
The Heat scored 44 points in the paint, almost 10 points than what the Pacers allow each game on average. During the 20-4 in the beginning of the third quarter, which pretty much ended the game, the Heat scored nine points in the paint, making it look easy to score against a bunch of players who were known to be the best defensive unit in the NBA until not too long ago. Players like George Hill and Roy Hibbert seem to be actually damaging the team when they’re on the floor, and Vogel doesn’t have an answer for that.
The Heat hold a 0.5 game lead but with two road games out of the remaining three overall, there’s nothing certain. Neither is it for the Pacers, but Miami got a huge boost from this win, in terms of showing their ability when they’re completely honed in, and the knowledge that they’re one step closer to that #1 spot that seemed almost out of reach for most of the season until the Pacers started falling apart.