Like they have done so many times this season, the Miami Heat took care of business last night and beat a team that they were supposed to beat. For the second year in a row, Miami swept the season series against the New Jersey Nets. For the Heat, the win was their 54th of the season and it kept them a half game ahead of Boston for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics also won last night, beating Detroit at home, but the win was costly for the boys from Boston.
They have been thin at the center position of late, especially after dealing away Kendrick Perkins at the trade deadline, but last night things were looking up as they welcomed Shaquille O'Neal back in the lineup. Shaq had been out since straining his Achilles' tendon on February 1st and looked good in his return, for about 5½ minutes. Then early in the 2nd quarter O'Neal limped to the Celtics locker room with what they are calling a strained right calf.
The injury isn't being called serious, but Boston fans have been down that road before. When Shaq injured his Achilles' he was only expected to be out a few games, but here we are over two months later talking about his first game back. Shifting our attention back to Miami, they did something else last night that was fairly significant. Their win over New Jersey, combined with the Orlando Magic losing in Toronto, clinched the Southeast Division title for Miami.
While I'm sure that Erik Spoelstra and the rest of the Heat are pleased about claiming the division, they still have some much more important goals to work towards. Last night against the Nets you could tell that Miami showed up ready to work. They went on a 13-0 run and never looked back, jumping out to a 17-4 advantage in the games first 4:17, a lead the Heat would never relinquish.
No win ever comes easy though, and Miami fans had to endure quite a scare during that dominant 1st quarter. Dwyane Wade bruised his right thigh while defending Travis Outlaw on a fast break, pulling himself out of the game and heading straight to the locker room to treatment. Thankfully he returned for the 2nd half and played his usual amount of minutes, finishing the game with 18 points in 27 minutes of work.
- LeBron James was his usual self, almost picking up a triple double. He finished with 31 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals.
- The 31 points brought his season total to 1998. When he reaches 2000, that will make him just the 7th player in NBA history to crack 2k points in 7 consecutive years.
- LeBron also turned the ball over 7 times, his highest total since a late November win over the Wizards.
- One final note on James...he now has scored in double figures in all 75 games he has played for Miami. That ties him with Alonzo Mourning for the 3rd longest streak in Heat franchise history.
- Erik Spoelstra used two centers last night and both made major contributions offensively. Big Z and Erick Dampier combined to score 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
- Dampier did a great job against Brook Lopez, absolutely dominating him on the boards. Damp came away with 14 rebounds while Lopez grabbed just 3.
- James Jones finished with 10 points and 4 rebounds. In his last three games, Jones is shooting 76.9% from the field and has mad 8-of-10 from downtown.
- Returning to action was Mario Chalmers after missing 6 games with a sprained right knee. He played 17 minutes, going 1-of-5 from the field and finishing with 3 points and an assist.
- The Heat improved to 26-13 away from home, the best road record in the Eastern Conference.
Miami now gets a few days off before returning home to play Milwaukee on Wednesday. Tipoff will be at 8pm as the game will be Nationally televised on ESPN.