James, Heat complete sweep of Bobcats
By IRA WINDERMAN
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The coast-to-coast frenzy that is the NBA Playoffs will begin soon enough for the Miami Heat.
For now, these past four matchups against the Charlotte Bobcats felt more like games Nos. 83, 84, 85 and 86 of a regular season that never quite brought out the championship best in Erik Spoelstra’s team.
Completing their second first-round sweep in as many seasons, the Heat took advantage of a Charlotte lineup lacking hobbled center Al Jefferson in a 109-98 victory Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena that now will give them at least five days off.
The Heat next face the winner of the best-of-seven first-round series between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors that is tied 2-2. The Heat’s next series could open Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena if the Nets-Raptors series is completed by Friday’s Game 6.
The Heat went 4-0 against the Raptors during the regular season, but 0-4 against the Nets, losing a pair of preseason games against Brooklyn, as well.
With Jefferson unable to push past the pain in his left foot that had limited him since the series’ opener, the Bobcats on Monday were little more than the all-or-nothing of guard Kemba Walker, who closed with a postseason career-best 29 points.
For the Heat, there were 31 points from forward LeBron James, who overcame a knee to the thigh hit in the third quarter, 17 from center Chris Bosh and 15 from guard Dwyane Wade, who battled foul trouble and now will benefit from additional time off for his troublesome knees.
“I feel like we got better every game,” James said, “and that’s what it’s about, you improve every game.”
Charlotte entered aware that no team has ever recovered from an 0-3 deficit to win an NBA playoff series.
The Heat finished the series having won the teams’ last 20 matchups, 19-0 against Charlotte in the Heat’s Big Three era. The Heat also have now won the last eight meetings at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Bobcats remain without the franchise’s first postseason victory, 0-8 in the playoffs over the franchise’s 10-year history, to be rebranded as the Charlotte Hornets in the offseason.
The Heat have now held the opposition below 100 points in 20 consecutive first-round playoff games, since Boston reached 100 on April 23, 2010.
The Heat went into the fourth quarter up 84-71 after backup point guard Norris Cole converted a 3-pointer from the right corner at the third-quarter buzzer.
Up 96-83 with 5:02 to play after a James free throw, the Heat saw the Bobcats trim that lead to 99-92, before Bosh responded with a jumper to push the advantage to nine.
Two Walker free throws then were matched by another Bosh jumper.
With 1:55 to play, a James driving layup pushed the Heat’s lead into double digits.
The Heat had a scare early in the third quarter, when Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo, who started in place of Jefferson, caught James with that knee to the thigh, sending James to the court beneath the basket and forcing the Heat to call time.
James stayed in the game and shortly thereafter converted a pair of long jumpers and then a breakaway dunk.
But with Walker matching one of those 3-pointers, the Bobcats remained close, with 17 lead changes and 15 ties to that point.
Later, a 3-pointer by James Jones with 4:51 left in the third pushed the Heat to a 73-66 lead, with Walker responding with a 3-pointer on the other end to push past the 20 point mark at a point when no other Bobcat had more than 10.
Two minutes later, Wade was forced to the final with his fourth foul, but with a Ray Allen 3-pointer and a Chris Andersen alley-oop dunk off a James feed, the Heat pushed to the first double-digit lead of the night, at 81-71 with 1:41 left in the third period.
The Heat meandered through the first half, opening 1 of 9 on 3-pointers before a conversion from Jones. With the Bobcats bench outscoring the Heat’s bench 25-14 in the first half, Charlotte went into the intermission up 54-52.
Walker came out sizzling, opening the scoring with a 3-pointer and with eight points in the first four minutes, but settled down to 12 at halftime.
The Bobcats had only four turnovers at the intermission, the type of ball control that lacked in the series’ first three games. They were not nearly as crisp with the ball in the second half.
Guard Gary Neal, who faced the Heat in last season’s NBA Finals as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, scored 10 points in the first half after failing to make needed contributions in the series’ first three games.
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