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Bobcats 103 - HEAT 112 Recap

Apr 9 2011 12:50AM

MIAMI – Members of the Miami HEAT spoke before Friday’s 112-103 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on their approach to these final four games of the regular season. They would treat it like a four-game playoff series, as a time to get all parts of their game geared up for the playoffs.

So far so good, for the offense at least.

Dwyane Wade (27 points on 12 shots), who had missed Wednesday’s game with a bruised thigh, set the tone early as he rose up for three forceful dunks in the first quarter. He would only make one of those, but the attitude was contagious as the HEAT finished with 62 points in the paint, 35 free-throw attempts and 118 points per 100 possessions in all.

“He looked like he was caged for three days the way he came out,” Erik Spoelstra said of Wade. “So aggressive and absolutely assaulting the rim.”

Every positive trait that the HEAT have displayed offensively cropped up in one form or another, with LeBron James (23 points on 15 shots) and Chris Bosh (27 points on 14 shots) patiently controlling sets from the free-throw line extended and Wade slashing through every seam in Charlotte’s defensive web. The role players filled in the margins – particularly Zydrunas Ilgauskas, scoring 10 on 5-of-7 shooting as he was reinserted into the starting lineup – but this was the All-Star talent leading by example in lieu of shouldering the burden at the expense of cohesion and fluidity.

The result was 26 assists on 39 made field goals, complete with 56.5 percent shooting. Barring the 16 turnovers that aided the Bobcats in hanging around for most of the evening, the ball movement and efficiency on display was exactly what you want to see in advance of Sunday’s showdown with the Boston Celtics.

The defense, however, leaves something to be desired.

The spectacular blocks, the challenges at the rim, the initial rotations are all there, but they continue to mask the HEAT’s various lapses. A man slicing backdoor here, an open weakside man or tipped offensive rebound there, the Bobcats ran efficient offense for much of the early going, but these mistakes have been haunting Miami for well over a week and certainly are below their defensive standards for the postseason.

And though the playoffs proper won’t begin for a week, Sunday is the closest we can get for a true simulation.

“We do look at the game Sunday as a big test for us,” James said.

If the HEAT win their final three games, they will secure the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage over the Celtics in a potential second-round meeting, but Sunday is about more than that. It’s about Miami proving, perhaps to itself more than anything, that the improvements its made to the process since that rough opener in late October will have tangible results against elite competition.

Because so far, no matter how close the point differentials have been despite the HEAT clearly not playing their best, the changes weren’t enough.

“We haven’t played well against Boston,” Spoelstra said. “We played them three times, and they were better than us all three times.

“What’s relevant is they’ve out played us three straight times.”

Two of those three losses came before the end of November, however, and Spoelstra says this is a different team than the one that wasn’t prepared for the defending conference champions before.

“The regular season prepared us,” Wade said. “When you get into hostile environments, teams being ready to play us, having to win on the road . . . we went through it all this year and its going to make us stronger.”

For their part, Miami’s leaders aren’t shrugging this game off as just another regular season matchup.

“We want what they’ve gotten before,” Bosh said. “They’re our competition. That makes the next game very important. We both want to win the game, and we’re actually playing for something.”