Wade returns to lead Heat over Bobcats
Dwyane Wade was back and attacking, his sore thigh almost forgotten. Chris Bosh had his biggest fourth quarter of the season. LeBron James controlled the offense, as he's done so many times.
Though not easily, Charlotte was handled.
And now the Heat can get ready for Boston.
Bosh scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 10 rebounds, Wade returned from injury to score 27 and James finished with 23 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. It was enough for the Heat to hold off the scrapping Bobcats 112-103.
''When we're aggressive, good things happen,'' Bosh said. ''I think that showed our mentality was to attack today.''
The victory, combined with Boston's 104-88 win over Washington, kept the Heat and Celtics tied for the second spot in the Eastern Conference with identical 55-24 records. They meet in Miami on Sunday, with the winner taking a huge step toward securing home-court advantage for the first two playoff rounds.
''Why not go get it?'' James asked.
Added coach Erik Spoelstra: ''Let's play.''
Miami won for the 12th time in 15 games and swept four games with Charlotte this season. The Heat will get the East's No. 2 seed by winning out, and Spoelstra vowed his team would keep the focus Friday on Charlotte, not Boston or anyone else.
Down the stretch, the Bobcats insisted that be the case.
''We had a chance,'' Charlotte coach Paul Silas said.
He was right. D.J. White's tip-in with 1:29 left got Charlotte within 104-98, even though Miami took a 14-point lead into the fourth and held that same margin with six minutes to play.
The ''Big 3'' provided breathing room. Wade got the ball at midcourt, threw to Bosh, who then set up James for a basket with 1:09 left that made it a three-possession game. James then sealed it with 37 seconds left, finding Bosh with a sharply angled pass for a layup and a 108-100 lead.
With that, it was time to look to Boston.
''We look forward to the challenge,'' Wade said.
Kwame Brown finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds for Charlotte, Garrett Temple scored 17, D.J. White added 13 and Boris Diaw and D.J. Augustin each finished with 11.
Charlotte had nine available players, going without Stephen Jackson, Tyrus Thomas, Eduardo Najera and Shaun Livingston, among others.
''We just couldn't complete plays,'' Silas said. ''But I am so proud of these guys to not give up and keep working hard ... Just a great effort.''
Miami moved to 14-0 when it has 25 or more assists. It had 26 assists against the Bobcats, along with 62 points in the paint and 31 more from the foul line.
Still, this outcome really wasn't decided until the final minute.
''We just ran out of energy,'' Brown said. ''They had all of their guys.''
Wade's status wasn't official until about 45 minutes before tip-off because of the deep bruise he's battled for about a week in his right thigh. The way he came out, it was hard to tell anything was wrong.
His plan was to slowly work his way into a rhythm. Instead, he took over early, scoring 14 points in the first quarter, his third-highest total for an opening period this season, and attacking the rim enough to earn nine free-throw tries in the first 5:53.
''He looked like he was caged for three days ... so aggressive and absolutely assaulting the rim,'' Spoelstra said. ''That was good.''
When he stopped scoring, James started, getting three field goals in a 75-second span, the last of them a one-handed slam off an inbound pass from Mario Chalmers, who'd just checked into the game. Miami was up 31-22, and signs pointed to a quick runaway.
Charlotte had other ideas.
It was a 41-38 game midway through the second quarter, and Miami needed a 10-4 run just to take a 55-44 lead into halftime.
The third quarter turned into a bit of a highlight show at times for the Heat, with Wade throwing a pair of full-court overhand passes to James and Miami running at every opportunity. Brown took exception at one point, leveling Wade with a flagrant-1 foul on a dunk try with 5:35 left in the third.
Every time Miami tried to run away, Charlotte answered, until time finally ran out.
So, bring on Boston, which is 3-0 against Miami this season.
''We think we're a much different team than the three times we've played them,'' Spoelstra said.
NOTES: Erick Dampier was introduced as Miami's starter at center, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas actually got the start and is the first-stringer ''for now,'' Spoelstra said. ... Queen Latifah was among the celebrities in the building. ... Charlotte became the 11th team to get swept by Miami this season, joining Detroit, Golden State, Houston, the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento and Washington. The Heat could also add Toronto to that list if they win in Canada on Wednesday.