When the Heat fell three games behind the first-place Indiana Pacers earlier this week, a lot of people wrote off their chances to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Not so fast, Sluggo.
Even with Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Greg Oden and Dwyane Wade unavailable because of minor health problems, the Heat turned in one of their best all-around performances of the season in a 110-78 rout of the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. They moved back to within two games of the Pacers, who were soundly beaten by the Washington Wizards on the road.
The Pacers have a few bumps on their schedule — Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs at home, Toronto Raptors and the Heat on the road.
“We can’t worry about what Indiana is doing,” LeBron James said. “We’ve got to go to Milwaukee and take care of business. If we take care of business, we’ll see what happens.”
James put up more impressive numbers to be sure, but rarely had he done so much in so little time. It took him only 30 minutes to record his first triple-double of the season — 17 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. He also had a plus 32 points differential.
“(The triple-double) has been elusive for me this season,” James said. “It’s always great to do it in a win.”
Toney Douglas, Udonis Haslem and James Jones made rare starts, and each had a hand in the victory. Haslem was especially effective with 17 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes.
“It says we’re professional,” Haslem said of the group performance. “That’s why we have so much depth. We take the mentality of the next man up, and that’s what we had to do tonight.”
Haslem has played sparingly this season, but his potential value in the playoffs isn’t lost on his teammates.
“If I’ve got to go into a dark alley, I know he’s one I want to go in with,” James said. “He’s going to be ready no matter what. He has made a living off that corner jumper, made a living off rebounding and being tough. It’s always great to have him on the floor.”
The Heat shot 54 percent in the field, a result of their best ball movement in recent weeks. And for one of the few times this season, they held their own against one of the most talented front lines in the league. The visitors controlled the backboards by a 47-36 margin.
The undermanned Heat may need more of the same against the lottery-bound Bucks tonight, as Allen (stomach virus) and Wade (strained right hamstring) are expected to sit out again.
“We have to collect ourselves and bounce back,” head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “There can’t be an exhale. The challenge again is from within — can we mentally prepare and get ourselves ready to bring this type of energy again.”