It’s a common perception that most NBA games are decided in the final five minutes or so. Then there was the one played at AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday night.
The Heat scored a 99-90 victory that might have been decided the moment that LeBron James set foot inside the building.
“I felt good about this game the second I saw LeBron come into the gym today,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We had an early walk-through and he ran in the gym, came up to every single person, player and coach and shook his hand and said, `Let’s go. Let’s get ready for this game.’ That’s what leaders do.”
Whatever the reason, the James Gang looked like their old selves after a streak of three consecutive losses. The big four of James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen combined for 80 points, as the defending champions clinched their sixth consecutive playoff berth.
“We definitely didn’t want a four-game skid coming off that road trip,” James said. “It was good to get a rhythm for all of us.”
“A good win,” Wade called it. “We just needed this win. They pushed us. They took the lead at one point in the third (quarter) and we got it back, so it was a good game.”
The turnaround was apparent at the defensive end, were the Heat executed switches, contested shots, blocked out near the basket and trusted each other. The visitors converted only 40 percent of their field goal tries and were guilty of 19 turnovers.
Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole didn’t score a point, but they threw a collective blanket over John Wall, the Wizards floor leader. The All-Star guard was limited to a pair of field goals and seven points.
James scored 25 points on a highly efficient 10 of 15 in the field. Even though he attacked the basket more aggressively this time, he did not attempt a free throw in the second consecutive game. That hadn’t happened since his rookie season.
“Very surprising,” James said through clenched teeth. “Very surprising.”
The Heat were outrebounded 50-33, a bugaboo since the start of the season. Martin Gortat paced the visitors with 18 rebounds, half at the offensive end.
But as Wade pointed out, “They killed us on rebounds, but we didn’t turn the ball over. We were able to get shots at the basket, and we’re a great shooting team.”
The best sight of all was that of Wade in the second of back-to-back games. He took over in the fourth period, when he scored 13 of his 22 points, his highest total in any quarter this season.
“I felt pretty good,” said Wade, who also had six assists and five rebounds. “Coach gave the ball to me and allowed me to make plays. I was able to that and make some passes, get guys some shots and be aggressive myself, so it was good.”
“If (Wade) can pass a series of exercises and tests of the routine and his legs feel good, why hold back? He’s ready to go and can play,” Spoelstra said. “We anticipated earlier in the year that, as the season would go on, he would feel better, but nothing is guaranteed. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow, make the evaluation and go from there.”
The Heat will play a game every other night in advance of a date with the Cavaliers on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Now we’ve got a tough week at home,” Wade said. “It’s a great week for us to be here with the challenge of the teams that come in, and we look forward to it.”