Wade, ailing James push Heat past Pacers

Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- The battle for Eastern Conference supremacy between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers continues, and Wednesday's second round of a four-game season series did not disappoint.
The game featured heated emotions, a vintage performance by Heat guard Dwyane Wade, a Pacers team that was able to play well for a while without its center and a valiant effort by Heat forward LeBron James, who was playing despite a gimpy left ankle.
In the end, Miami rallied from a 15-point, third-quarter deficit to defeat Indiana 97-94 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Wade scored a season-high 32 points, making 15 of 25 shots from the floor.
"This is the best I've felt all season," Wade said. "I knew LeBron was dealing with his ankle a little bit. I wanted to be aggressive."
James added 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists despite the fact that he missed Tuesday's practice and said he would not have played had the game been played that night.
Miami may have lost Wednesday if not for big shots down the stretch by forward Chris Bosh and guard Ray Allen. The Heat made just three of 19 3-pointers until Bosh hit one from deep with 90 seconds left to tie the score at 92.
Then, after Pacers forward Paul George missed a short jumper, Allen hit a 3-pointer from the right elbow to put the Heat up for good, 95-92, with 59 seconds left.
After Indiana cut it to 95-94 on two foul shots by forward David West, James came up with a steal with 13 seconds left on a bad pass by Pacers point guard George Hill.
The Pacers had one more chance, but George missed a 3-pointer with four seconds left, and Heat forward Chris Andersen grabbed the rebound to end the game.
"I thought I was fouled (by James)," George said. "I got pushed in the back, but nothing was called."
George led Indiana with 25 points, and West added 23.
The Heat (19-6) earned its fifth win in six games, and they avenged the only blemish during that span -- last week's loss at Indiana.
"This was a good, quality win," James said. "You don't want to be two behind in the loss column, no matter who you are playing."
The Heat trails the Pacers (20-5) by one game in the battle for the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
After an 18-2 start, Indiana is just 2-3 in its past five games.
James was not the only one functioning at less than 100 percent Wednesday. Pacers coach Frank Vogel was courtside despite suffering from food poisoning.
Vogel said the Heat's ability to get fast-break points -- Miami held a 21-9 advantage in that category -- was crucial, especially in the fourth quarter.
Overall, though, the Pacers held the usually hot-shooting Heat to 48.1 percent from the floor.
"You've got two great teams going at it," Vogel said. "It's going to be a fun series all season. Hopefully, we will be able to meet in the playoffs."
If so, expect even more tension such as what happened in the second quarter, when Pacers guard Lance Stephenson and Heat counterpart Mario Chalmers were hit with technical fouls.
A bigger moment came with 8:34 left in the third quarter and the Pacers up 58-48. That's when Indiana center Roy Hibbert picked up his fifth foul and went to the bench.
While he was out, the Pacers stretched their lead to 15 points. However, the Heat closed the quarter on a 23-3 run and then kept that momentum going in the fourth.
"It's frustrating," said Hibbert, who had just six points, two rebounds and one block in 22 minutes. "We should have been able to hold onto that lead."
George said Hibbert's absence was a key to the loss.
"He's the best rim protector in the league," George said. "Him not being out there limited us defensively."
NOTES: After averaging 25.1 points in the first month of the season, Pacers F Paul George entered Wednesday with a 14.7 average over his previous three games. His scoring slump was accompanied by more turnovers (up from 2.6 to 3.7) and a lower shooting percentage (down from .478 to .270). ... Pacers F Danny Granger, who played just five games last season due to a knee injury and has yet to appear this season due to a calf problem, is expected to return Friday at home against the Houston Rockets. He is making $14 million in 2013-14, and he will be a free agent after the season. ... Heat F Michael Beasley (hamstring) missed his sixth consecutive game. ... The next time the teams meet will be March 26 in Indiana. They also play April 11 at Miami. ... The Heat plays the fourth game of a five-game homestand Friday against the Sacramento Kings.

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