MIAMI — In a battle for first place in the Eastern Conference, forward LeBron James scored 36 points to lead the Miami Heat past the Indiana Pacers 98-86 Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
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 David West added 18, but center Roy Hibbert was mostly ineffective with just five points and one rebound.
The Heat (54-25) now leads 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.
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).
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 forward David 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 F Udonis Haslem returned after missing two games because of the flu. … 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.
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