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Heat complete sweep of Bobcats

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It might have looked routine, but that is not the way the Miami Heat view their first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Heat pulled away late in the third quarter for a 109-98 victory in Game 4 on Monday night, and afterward they made sure to savor the moment.

“When you see what’s going on around the league and how competitive it is, even though we’ve been through this, our fourth year together, we do not take it for granted,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Some people might look at this 2-7 matchup and say we’re supposed to win 4-0, but it doesn’t work that way in this league. We understand how fragile it is and how tough it is to win in this league. We’re very pleased to move on and we’re not jaded enough not to enjoy the process.”

The Heat will now face the winner of the Toronto-Brooklyn series in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Forward LeBron James led the way with 31 points, playing most of the second half after suffering a thigh contusion. He had 20 in the second half, as the Heat took control by outscoring the Bobcats 32-17 in the third quarter. Charlotte led by two at halftime.

James said he was pleased with the way the Heat stepped up their game in this series, after losing five of eight to end the regular season.

“For us, the best thing about this series is that we improved every game,” James said. “That was the most important thing.”

The Heat also got 17 points from center Chris Bosh, 15 from guard Dwyane Wade, 13 from guard Norris Cole and 10 from guard Mario Chalmers.

They shot 50 percent from the field, had 25 assists on 39 field goals, and committed only nine turnovers.

“We took care of the ball in this series,” James said. “Tonight and Saturday night (a 98-85 win) we did a good job of taking care of the ball. That is the one thing coming out of this series that we need to carry on to the next series. If we don’t turn the ball over, we get a chance at some great shots, and we’re the No. 1 shooting team in the league. If we don’t turn the ball over and get great shots, we have a great chance to succeed.”

The win was the Heat’s 20th straight over the Bobcats in the Big Three Era, and closed out a season in which the Heat beat the Bobcats eight times.

The Bobcats played without center Al Jefferson, their leading scorer and rebounder. Jefferson suffered a strained left plantar fascia in Game 1 in Miami, played through the pain in Games 2 and 3, but couldn’t answer the bell on only one day’s rest Monday night.

“You take away any team’s best scorer and it’s going to be very difficult for that team,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “And I would say we depend more on Al than any team in the league depends on one player. But I thought our guys fought hard. They stepped on the floor with the mentality that even without Al they were going to win the game.”

Clifford wasn’t using Jefferson’s absence as an excuse, though.

“In these games against these kind of teams, you’ve got to be able to stay with what you’re doing well, and we got away from that for a stretch in the third quarter,” he said.

Guard Kemba Walker led the Bobcats with 29 points. Guard Gary Neal scored 16, forward Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 14, guard Gerald Henderson scored 12, and forward Josh McRoberts had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“This was a good experience,” Walker said. “We ought to appreciate the experience. Obviously we’re disappointed but it was the first go-around for a lot of us, and, you know, we can only go up from here. This has got to give us confidence as a team, because we’ve got our whole core returning next season.”

Notes: The game was the final one for the Bobcats, who will become the Hornets starting next season. The Bobcats made two playoff appearances in their 10 seasons, but were swept in both first-round series. … The Bobcats had been 16-2 in their previous 18 home games before losing Games 3 and 4 in this series. … The Heat have shown killer instinct in the playoffs under coach Erik Spoelstra. They are now 12-4 under Spoelstra when they have a chance to close out a series. … The Heat have won at least one road game in their last 13 straight playoff series, tying the Chicago Bulls (1991-94) for the longest streak in NBA history. … F LeBron James’ 31-point performance marked the 64th time he has scored 30 or more in the playoffs. Only Kobe Bryant (88) has more among active players. … Spoelstra said he would like to continue to play G Dwyane Wade about 33 minutes a game and doesn’t foresee Wade playing 40 anytime soon. Wade played 29 minutes Monday night.