To close the second quarter, James did this.
The Heat didn't look back after that. Miami cruised to a 96-77 win over the league's worst team to improve to 30 games above .500 at 52-22 and remain atop the Eastern Conference's standings by percentage points. This game was much like the Heat's visit to Milwaukee last week, as the defending champions simply took care of business from the start and didn't look back. Critics may dismiss these wins, but the Heat have lost 12 games to below .500 teams. Simple professionalism and effort have been themes for this regular season after a spectacular 67-win season last year. It's good to see that changing as the playoffs approach -- which is more than one can say for the Indiana Pacers.
Erik Spoelstra continued to use his altered rotation with various ailments keeping Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Greg Oden out tonight. Toney Douglas made the most of his opportunity, finishing with nine points with some nice offensive moves, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. Some thought that Douglas would simply ride the bench as a Heat player, but he will challenge Norris Cole for minutes behind Mario Chalmers.
In addition to those two dunks, James finished with a team-high 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, four rebounds, eight assists and one trademark LeBron chasedown block that Heat fans have largely missed this season. Chris Bosh added 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting but not a single rebound. On a night without Wade and Allen, it was good to see Bosh and James put together efficient offensive nights.
Cole and Rashard Lewis saved Spoelstra from having to use Bosh or James during the final stretches of the game. The Heat went into the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead, but Milwaukee rattled off six quick points to trim into the lead with plenty of time left. But Cole and Lewis made back-to-back field goals to keep the lead at bay.
Chalmers added 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting -- including two triples. James Jones nailed his first three 3-pointers of the contest, and he -- at least for now -- has supplanted Shane Battier in the rotation. It will be interesting to see whether Battier or Oden get back their positions in the rotation for the playoffs or if Jones and Udonis Haslem manage to capitalize on their positive production. Haslem shot 3-of-5 from the field and grabbed five boards in 25 minutes.
The Heat will host the Minnesota Timberwolves at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
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