In one of the wilder games of the season, the Miami Heat fought hard on the road to get their 40th victory of the season and beat the pesky Indiana Pacers 110-103.
With little support from the non-Big 3, Dwyane Wade exploded for 41 points including 31 in the first half which tied the franchise record for most points in a first half by Sherman Douglas in 1990 (wouldn't you have assumed Wade or even Alonzo Mourning had done that already?). Wade's hot shooting cooled off in the second half but Chris Bosh and LeBron James took over the workload of scoring. The combined 90 points was certainly impressive as well as grabbing 26 total rebounds. There was precious little left in contributions from the rest though Erick Dampier really stood out in his limited minutes.
Wade made his first eight shots to start out with 18 of Miami’s first 22 points in the first five minutes of the game. Funny what happens when you push the ball up quickly and have him attack the basket freely with the defense not set yet, right? Wade got to 20 points with five and half minutes left in the first quarter. During that time, Bosh had two fantastic plays with the ball in his hands that led to impressive baskets as well.An over the shoulder heave by Wade next to the Indiana basket was so far away from the Heat’s basket that only those present at the Conseco Fieldhouse could realize it was actually an alley-oop pass to LeBron for one of the most spectacular plays of the season. This is something you might see at an All-Star game but never in an actual game (perhaps they’ll recreate it in L.A. for an encore). This is definitely one of those plays you’ll see everywhere in Heat promos from now on. Just for fun, Wade followed that up with a turnaround rainbow jump shot in front of his bench. You’d think it was a home game by then because the Indiana crowd were up on their feet and boisterous as they enjoyed some amazing basketball. Such was the level of entertainment the Heat created that it didn’t matter that their hometown Pacers were being blown out by 23 points in the first 9 minutes of the game. Wade was so dominant in the first quarter that he rested on the bench at the outset of the second quarter leaving LeBron to play with Bosh. A quick 9-2 Pacers run resulted in Wade being thrown back into the game 3 minutes later. On his first play he made a great drive and dish to Dampier for the basket and a foul. Unfortunately, the Pacers still came back strong and regained their swagger to get back into the game and effectively erasing the Heat's huge lead and only ended up down by 4 points at halftime. For the Heat, the defense stopped forcing turnovers and quick fastbreak opportunities dried up. Danny Granger was decent enough while struggling from the outside but Roy Hibbert, Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough really impressed. Dahntay Jones and Jeff Foster had their moments defensively as well. Such is the surprising depth that both James Posey and TJ Ford, veterans that the Heat could use, are afterthoughts on this roster. Mike Miller suffered yet another blow to the head courtesy of Foster's elbow (shocking, I know) and was forced to go to the hospital and will miss tonight's game against the Toronto Raptors. The All-Star Weekend couldn't come at a better time for Miller who had been checked out for concussion symptoms earlier this week and seems to suffer from about 30 injuries right now. At this point you'd have to consider trotting him out with a helmet in order to preserve him for the playoffs. Carlos Arroyo couldn't even get into the game with Mario Chalmers and Eddie House struggling with their shots as they missed several wide-open 3-pointers all night. House at the very least stepped up and hit two late free throws to help ice the game, something LeBron couldn't do when it was his turn at the line right before. After a 64-point outburst during the second and third quarter, the Pacers cooled off down the stretch as they missed shot after shot and allowed the Heat to once again attack the basket. Making matters worse, they gave up an uncontested dunk to Dampier after Bosh found him wide open next to the basket on a crucial possession. The Heat are now the second NBA team after the Spurs to reach 40 wins with one more game to go before the break. Their record proves that the Heat have somehow managed to almost meet wild expectations of instant supremacy before the season had started. There's been a lot of beautiful basketball but there's been a lot of head scratching moments as well. In one game the Heat showed it all and remain a wonderfully talented but disjointed unit capable of beating the best of teams yet also not consistently dominant enough to put them at the top of the East. Yet. The team will go as far as the Big 3 will take them but the bench must step up or reinforcements will have to be made if there's any hope of beating Boston. Ten of the next twelve games after the break will be at home with plenty of tough competition ahead. We may learn a lot about the team in that stretch or ultimately learn nothing. As the first championship Heat team proved, it's all about which team is hot during the playoffs.