Heat clinch Southeast Division title
The Miami Heat exhaled after beating the New Jersey Nets to win the Southeast Division title. It had nothing to do with the win or the title. The relief was because Dwyane Wade wasn't seriously hurt.
Wade bruised his right thigh in the first quarter of the Heat's 108-94 win but managed to return for the second half, finishing with 18 points on a night Miami rode a 31-point, 11-rebound effort by LeBron James.
''I just kept asking him when he kept coming in and going out, if he was OK,'' said James, who finished three assists shy of a triple-double. ''He knows at this point that he doesn't have to push it. We need him more later than we do now. Dwyane needs to be as close to 100 percent as possible. No one is 100 right now.''
Wade went to the locker room for treatment in the second quarter and limped back on the court after intermission to warm up. He started the second half and played 20 minutes.
''I just wanted to play,'' said Wade, who was hurt in a collision with Nets forward Travis Outlaw. ''I couldn't hurt it any more, unless I got kneed again. I thought I was pretty effective helping my team get a victory. I just wanted to play basketball, one leg or not.''
Wade will have two full days to rest with Miami's next game against Milwaukee on Wednesday.
The win pulled Miami (54-23) within 2 1/2 games of idle Chicago (56-20) in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Heat have five games left, one less than the Bulls.
''The postseason is going to tell,'' said James, who was 13 of 18 from the field. ''We're a very good team right now and we believe we can beat anybody in a seven-game series. We're ready.''
The one thing the Heat weren't ready to do was celebrate their first division title since 2007.
''We don't want to be jaded,'' coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''That's the first step. It's not our ultimate goal. We want to gobble up as many of those things as possible.''
The Heat, who also got 16 points from Chris Bosh, seem to be peaking with eight wins in nine games.
The Nets are heading the other way in the final weeks of the season. They have lost six straight and 10 of 11.
In this one, they fell behind by 16 points in the first quarter and never recovered in losing to Miami for the third time this season and seventh in a row overall.
''We definitely had some makable shots but I thought we rushed them,'' said point guard Deron Williams, who had 18 points and 12 assists. ''They got out in transition and got layup after layup, and they're tough to beat when they're doing that.''
Outlaw added 17 points and nine rebounds for New Jersey, while Brook Lopez had 16 points.
New Jersey played without leading rebounder Kris Humphries (ankle-heel) for the second straight game and it showed on the boards. Miami enjoyed a 50-30 advantage with Erick Dampier grabbing a game-high 14.
James scored 15 points in the first quarter, including nine straight that helped the Heat jump to a 17-4 lead.
''He's one of those players who's impossible to guard by himself,'' Williams said. ''He started out the game posting up, scored a couple times. He got out in transition, scored a couple times. We tried to double him but he's such a good passer and he was picking us apart out there. I mean, it's tough.''
Wade also scored six points and had an assist on an ally-oop to James that started his personal run.
The Heat led 26-10 after a Wade 3-pointer, and 32-18 at the end of the quarter, hitting 15 of 20 shots.
The Nets, who shot only 33 percent in the quarter, were still within 14 points at the half before twice cutting the margin to seven in the third quarter.
The closest the Nets got was 83-77 on two free throws by Lopez with 7:44 to go.
However, Bosh hit a jumper in the lane and James Jones hit a 3-pointer to ignite an 11-2 spurt that put the game away.
NOTES: Miami is 26-13 on the road, best in the Eastern Conference. ... James has scored in double figures in 75 straight games for Miami, tying Alonzo Mourning for third best in franchise history. ... Humphries will also miss Tuesday night's game here against Minnesota. ... James thrilled the crowd when he banked in a shot from half court after a whistle.