MIAMI — Forward LeBron James’ 36 points in the Miami Heat’s 98-86 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena were no surprise.
But forward Udonis Haslem’s gritty performance — 11 points, nine rebounds, numerous charges taken and loose balls retrieved — was an inspiration to Miami.
“That old warrior,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Haslem, who missed the previous two games with the flu. “My personal inspiration as a coach — I love looking at his photo in my office. It’s him getting ready for battle, and he just has this look of intensity.
“These are the types of games where he brings what is necessary. And what was necessary was ball in the air, ball on the ground, 50-50 — he was dominating those areas. He set the tone with four full-body knee-burns, just to let us know how important this game was.”
The win put the Heat back in control of the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and the importance of home court cannot be minimized.
Last year, the Heat needed that home-court advantage, beating the Pacers in a seventh game in Miami.
In addition, the Pacers are 6-1 at home against the Heat since the start of last season. They are 1-6 at Miami during that span. And if the teams were to meet in Game 7, history shows that the home team wins 79.8 percent of the time (91-23).
James, remaining even-keeled as usual, tried to downplay the significance of the top seed. But he admitted he loved the way the Heat played, including the fact that they turned the ball over just nine times.
“We don’t worry about seeding,” James said. “It’s all about how we are playing basketball at this particular time.
“The playoffs start in a week, and this is a great step in the direction where we want to be. We didn’t’ turn the ball over, and that’s been our Kryptonite all season. We did a great job against a very good defensive team.”
Miami used a 16-0 third-quarter run to subdue the Pacers. The Heat led by as many as 23 points in the third and withstood a fourth-quarter run by the Pacers that cut their advantage to as little as nine points.
Forward Paul George led the Pacers with 22 points, and forward David West added 18, but center Roy Hibbert was mostly ineffective with just five points and one rebound.
“Once you get down by 20 points, you are in a bit of a panic mode,” said Hibbert, who made two of seven shots from the floor. “Things felt a little bit rushed sometimes. … I wasn’t really worried about my shot attempts.”
The Heat (54-25) now lead the Pacers (54-26) by one game in the fight for home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Miami closes its regular season with games at Atlanta and Washington and a home contest against Philadelphia. If Miami wins all three, it gets the top seed.
The reeling Pacers, who are 8-13 in their past 21 games, close the season with a tough home contest vs. Oklahoma City and then a trip to Orlando.
If the Pacers and Heat finish with identical records, Indiana gets the top seed because it holds the tiebreaker due to a better conference mark.
But the way the Pacers are playing at the moment, it seems like they are destined for second place in the regular season.
That was especially true after Friday, when the bigger and wider Pacers were outscored 44-26 in the paint.
The Heat, a notoriously poor rebounding team, also beat the Pacers on the boards, 40-31.
George, though, said his team is not in a panic.
“The top seed is not in our hands right now, and we’re perfectly fine with that,” he said. “I thought we played well. We just needed to take care of the ball better (they had 16 turnovers) and rebound.”
The Heat, who split the season series with Indiana 2-2, got off to a slow start Friday, trailing 25-23 after the first quarter. The Pacers shot 56.3 percent in the quarter and got 10 points from West.
Miami, which shot 47.1 percent, got 14 points from James. With his 11th point, he reached 2,000 for a ninth season, which tied him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third place in NBA history. Only Karl Malone (12) and Michael Jordan (11) have had more 2,000-point seasons.
The Heat took a slight 45-42 lead into halftime despite not shooting up to their standards — 41.2 percent for the half.
NOTES: Heat SG Dwyane Wade (hamstring) and C Greg Oden (back) missed their ninth straight games. … Heat C Chris “Birdman” Andersen (knee) returned after missing two of the past three games. … Pacers C Andrew Bynum (knee) missed his 14th straight game. … Since G Evan Turner made his Indiana debut on Feb. 25, the Pacers had been outscored by an average of 8.7 points per 48 minutes before Friday. With Turner on the bench, the Pacers were slightly outscoring their opponents. … Los Angeles Clippers F Danny Granger is the player the Pacers traded to get Turner. With Granger on the court this season, the Pacers outscored opponents by 116 points. With Turner, the Pacers have been outscored by 83. … Including the Pacers, 137 teams have reached the All-Star break playing at least .700 ball. Of those teams, the Pacers’ post-break record of 13-13 entering Friday was the second worst.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.