Using a late rally to narrowly beat a good team their last time out, the Miami Heat feel like surviving that challenge will help them in the long run.
They received no such test in either of their first two games against the Indiana Pacers.
The Heat, seeking a 12th consecutive home win, try to build on an encouraging victory and beat the Pacers for a fifth straight time Saturday night.
After cruising to a 108-78 win over New Jersey on Tuesday to avoid a three-game losing streak, the Heat (30-9) had some trouble getting past Atlanta the following night. They were down 65-55 with four minutes to go in the third quarter and still trailed with less than two minutes left in the fourth, but Dwyane Wade put Miami up for good with a 12-foot jumper en route to an 89-86 victory.
"We stuck with it until we eventually got the lead," said Wade, who started after sitting out the second half Tuesday with a sore right ankle. "And we were able to hold on and get a good win."
While Wade was held under 20 points for a season-high third straight game but had nine rebounds with six assists, LeBron James finished with 31 points and 11 boards for his fourth double-double in five games.
The Heat, riding their longest home winning streak since a 14-game run from Jan. 22-March 16, 2007, had lost a couple of close games to Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers in the past week. Their previous 11 victories before Wednesday had all been by at least 12 points.
"We needed one of these games," said James, third in the league in scoring at 27.7 per game. "It's about time we had one of these games where we had to fight for every minute, all the way down the stretch. ... It was good for us to close this game out."
While the Heat used a late run to beat the Hawks, they essentially had Indiana (23-14) beaten by halftime in the first two meetings.
Miami, playing without Wade, defeated the Pacers 118-83 on Jan. 4 behind James' 33 points, then won 105-90 in Indiana on Feb. 14. The Heat led by at least 35 points in each game and completely shut down Danny Granger, limiting Indiana's leading scorer to nine total points on 3-of-17 shooting.
"We've just got to understand you're going to have bad nights in the NBA and we happened to have two bad nights the two times we played Miami," coach Frank Vogel told the Pacers' official website. "We know we're a very good team right now. We're trying to become a great team and it starts with the challenges in front of us. We've got to improve and we've got to put together a better basketball game against Miami than we have the first two times. It's that simple."
The Heat have won four straight and eight of nine in this series, but they haven't been the only playoff contender to give Indiana trouble.
The Pacers lost 92-72 to Chicago on Monday and 101-96 to Atlanta the following night in their past two games. They've dropped six straight to teams with records currently over .500.
Those two defeats came after the Pacers had won six in a row with all of the victories coming against sub-.500 teams, including two apiece over the worst in each conference - New Orleans and Charlotte.
The Pacers are one of the league's top rebounding teams at 43.9 per game, but they were outrebounded 105-69 by the Bulls and Hawks this week.
"I don't think we were ourselves the last two games," Vogel said.
Against Atlanta, David West had a season-high 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, but the rest of Indiana's starters combined to shoot 34.1 percent (14 of 41).
- Miami Heat
- Indiana Pacers
- Dwyane Wade