Heat Check: Miami doesn’t let up, grabs commanding 3-0 series lead in Charlotte

This time, the Miami Heat built a huge lead and refused to let the Charlotte Bobcats back into the game.

LeBron James had 30 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and the Heat led by as many as 26 points en route to a 98-85 victory Saturday night against the Bobcats in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first-round series. The two-time defending NBA champs lead the best-of-seven playoff series 3-0.

The Heat won Game 2 at home 101-97 by holding on after building a 16-point lead.

Miami will go for the four-sweep in Game 4 on Monday night at Charlotte. With other Eastern Conference series set to go at least five games, the veteran Heat likely could benefit from some days off if they eliminate the Bobcats in four games.

"The guys understand about what’s at stake," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You don’t want a series to go longer than it needs to and leave it up to chance."

Despite finishing the regular season by losing nine of their final 12 road games, the Heat took control at Time Warner Cable Arena late in the first half and pulled away in the third quarter.

"The good thing is, we don’t think about that," Dwyane Wade said of the late-season road struggles. "That season is gone. This is a new season and we’re a good road team. Especially in the playoffs, we know what it takes."

Wade added 17 points and Chris Andersen had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Heat, who committed just seven turnovers. Miami outscored Charlotte in the paint 40-18 and 15-4 in second-chance points.

"To have 36 field goals and 26 of them assisted, and we only allow 41 percent shooting, let’s me know we played our type of basketball," James said.

James had 16 points, five assists and four rebounds to help the Heat build a 58-46 halftime lead. Miami hit six of eight 3-pointers in the half and outscored Charlotte 35-19 in the second quarter.

Charlotte center Al Jefferson scored 15 of his 20 points to help Charlotte grab a 27-23 lead after the first quarter. But the center, playing with a plantar fascia injury suffered in Game 1, had no field goals in the second quarter.

"We were much more committed defensively (in the second quarter)," Spoelstra said. "We all saw the type of rhythm they were getting into in the first quarter, particularly Jefferson. Every catch was exactly where he wanted it, right in his wheelhouse, right in his comfort zone, where he could just inflict incredible damage on our defense."

In the third period, James scored 12 points as the Heat built a 79-53 advantage when James Jones nailed a 3-pointer with 3:59 left.

By picking up its defensive intensity in the second and third quarters, Miami also benefitted on the offensive end.

"It was pretty much in transition, trying to get up the floor so they couldn’t get set in their defense and clog up the paint," Andersen said. "We tried to do as much as we could pushing the ball up the court."

The Big Three played significant minutes in the fourth quarter even though the period began with Miami ahead 86-65.

Miami had just four turnovers overall during the second and third quarters.

The Heat have beaten Charlotte 19 straight times and improved to 18-0 against the Bobcats since James and Chris Bosh joined Wade in Miami.

THE TURNING POINT

More from Game 3

Miami closed the second quarter with a 21-6 run over the final 5:39.

THE DIFFERENCE MAKER

James not only came close to a triple-double, he hit nine of 10 free throws and committed just two turnovers.

STAT OF THE GAME

Miami committed just seven turnovers, which led to seven Charlotte points.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Heat will try to close out the Eastern Conference first-round series in Game 4, 7 p.m. Monday in Charlotte.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.