MIAMI – Forward LeBron James had 32 points, seven rebounds and eight assists as the Miami Heat earned an important win in the battle for the top record in the Eastern Conference, defeating the Toronto Raptors 93-83 Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
By virtue of the win and the Indiana Pacers’ loss to the San Antonio Spurs earlier Monday, the Heat (51-22) lead in the loss column in the competition for the best record in the East. The Pacers (52-23) are in second place by percentage points.
The Raptors on Monday closed to within 81-78 with 6:13 left in the fourth quarter, but the Heat went on a 6-0 run to regain their cushion.
Toronto was led by shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who had 16 points.
Miami won its third straight game despite using its 20th different starting lineup this season. The Heat was without shooting guards Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen and center Greg Oden but still had enough to snap Toronto’s three-game win streak.
The Heat, which got 18 points from forward Chris Bosh, is 15-7 without Wade this season.
Toronto, which has clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2008, is 35-20 since it traded small forward Rudy Gay.
Miami held a slim 24-23 lead after the first quarter as James had 10 points.
James added 11 points in the second quarter as the Heat, which at one point trailed by 10 points, stretched their lead to 54-51 heading into the break.
Toronto shot exceptionally well for the half – 57.9 percent – but shot just three free throws, making two.
In contrast, the Heat made 13 of 15 from the foul line.
Miami led by as many as 14 points in the third quarter and headed into the fourth leading 74-65. The Raptors shot just 33.3 percent in the third quarter and took just two free throws.
James finished the third quarter with 29 points.
NOTES: Heat PG Mario Chalmers (thigh bruise) returned to the lineup Monday after a two-game absence. … Miami SG Dwyane Wade (hamstring) sat out his third game in a row. It was the 22nd game he missed this season. … Heat C Greg Oden (back) also sat out his third straight game. He has missed 51 games this season. … Miami G Ray Allen (flu) missed his fourth consecutive game. … Heat F Udonis Haslem started for just the 11th time this season, while G Toney Douglas made his ninth start. … Raptors F Patrick Patterson entered Monday’s game early in the first quarter, playing for the first time since he injured his right elbow on March 7. He missed 13 games. … Raptors PG Kyle Lowry entered Monday with career-high averages in points (17.5 per game), assists (7.6), rebounds (4.8), steals (1.6), plus a career-best 3-point percentage (.379). … Miami’s five-game homestand continues Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. … Toronto returns home for two tough games: Wednesday vs. the Houston Rockets and Friday vs. the Indiana Pacers.
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