MIAMI — For most of the season, the Miami Heat were chasing the Indiana Pacers.
On Friday, they just blew by them.
Control of the Eastern Conference again belongs to the Heat, after LeBron James scored 36 points and the two-time defending NBA champions opened the second half with a 16-0 run on the way to beating the Pacers 98-86 — a win that vaulted Miami a half-game ahead of Indiana in the race for a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“This is not the biggest game we’ve played in our four years together,” James said. “It’s always great to have competitive games like this in the regular season. I mean, we’ve played Game 7 in the Finals before. It doesn’t get no bigger than that.”
True, but this had plenty of meaning.
Miami (54-25) leads the Pacers (54-26) by the slimmest of margins in the East race. The Heat play at Atlanta on Saturday, at Washington on Monday and then close at home against Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Win them all, and the road to the East title goes through Miami, again.
“We know what’s going on out there,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “We know what’s going to happen. We’re in the middle of trying to put everything together for ourselves and I think today was a good step forward for us.”
Mario Chalmers scored 13, Udonis Haslem added 11 and Bosh and Ray Allen each scored 10 for the Heat, who had lost two straight and were looking up at Indiana for much of the season in the East standings.
Paul George scored 22 for Indiana, which got 18 from David West, 12 from Luis Scola and 11 from Lance Stephenson. Pacers center. Roy Hibbert had only five points and one rebound, grabbing it with just over 2 minutes left in the game.
“We’re still a good basketball team,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I think we’re taking steps to get ready.”
The Pacers — who sat their starters against Milwaukee on Wednesday in an effort to rest for this one, and have insisted throughout this season that they wanted the No. 1 seed after losing a Game 7 in Miami to close the East finals a year ago — still play Oklahoma City and Orlando.
“As of now it’s not in our hands,” George said, “and we’re perfectly fine with it.”
Hibbert, the 7-foot-2 center who has simply toyed with Miami plenty of times in the clubs’ recent meetings, played 16 first-half minutes with basically nothing to show for his time. He went into the break with no field-goal attempts and no rebounds — the first time he’s ever logged that many minutes in a half without at least one shot or board.
“We’ve got to get more from him,” Vogel said.
LOS ANGELES — Stephen Curry had 30 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, and the Golden State Warriors clinched a playoff berth with a 112-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.
Klay Thompson and Marreese Speights scored 16 points apiece for the Warriors, who will make back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in more than two decades.
After blowing a 20-point lead and a chance to clinch at home against Denver on Thursday night, Curry and the Warriors are back in the postseason after snapping an 11-game road losing streak against the Lakers.
Nick Young scored 25 points for the Lakers, who set a franchise low with the 54th loss of their miserable season. The 1957-58 Minneapolis Lakers lost 53 times in their 72-game season.
Curry, who hit four 3-pointers, grabbed a defensive rebound with 41 seconds left to wrap up his fifth career triple-double. The speedy point guard is the first Warriors player with four triple-doubles in a single season since Wilt Chamberlain had five in 1962-63.
The Warriors had little trouble with the remnants of the Lakers, opening a 20-point lead in the third quarter and cruising to just their second road win over the 16-time NBA champions in 22 games.
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol sat out for the Lakers, who will miss the playoffs for just the third time since 1976.
SPURS 112, SUNS 104
SAN ANTONIO — Danny Green had a career-high 33 points and San Antonio rallied from a 21-point deficit to clinch the league’s best record.
Kawhi Leonard scored 18 points and Tony Parker added 18 points and three assists in his return from a two-game absence due to a back injury.
Green was 7 for 10 on 3-pointers in pushing San Antonio (62-18) to victory without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, who both sat out the second game of a back-to-back for rest.
Eric Bledsoe had 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to lead Phoenix (47-32), which fell into a tie with Memphis for the West’s eighth seed.
TORONTO — Carmelo Anthony scored 30 points, Amare Stoudemore had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and New York preserved its slim playoff hopes.
J.R. Smith had 15 points, Raymond Felton 12 and Iman Shumpert scored eight of his 11 in the fourth quarter as the Knicks won for the first time in three games.
DeMar DeRozan scored 26 points and Kyle Lowry had 25 but the Raptors failed to match the franchise record for victories in a season (47) and disappointed a sellout crowd that had hoped to watch them clinch the Atlantic Division title for the second time in franchise history.
HAWKS 93, NETS 88
NEW YORK — Paul Millsap had 27 points and 10 rebounds to help Atlanta move to the verge of a playoff spot.
The Hawks could have clinched the final Eastern Conference berth had the Knicks lost in Toronto. Instead, Atlanta remained two games up with three to play, needing just one more win or New York loss to secure its postseason place.
Jeff Teague added 22 points for the Hawks, who won for just the fifth time in 13 games and are only 36-43, but that might be good enough in the East. He frequently took advantage of a matchup with little brother Marquis, forced to play extended minutes while the Nets rested some regulars.
WIZARDS 96, MAGIC 86
ORLANDO, Fla. — Nene scored 17 points and Bradley Beal added 16 as Washington overcame a sluggish offense.
John Wall had 10 points and 12 assists for the Wizards, who ended a two-game losing streak. Trevor Booker finished with 14 points and Marcin Gortat had 12.
Arron Afflalo led Orlando with 19 points, but the Magic shot just 4 for 15 in the fourth quarter and saw their two-game winning streak end. Jameer Nelson had 12 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for Orlando and Kyle O’Quinn added 13 points and nine rebounds.
Struggling from the perimeter nearly the entire game, Washington kept its focus in the paint in the fourth quarter. Leading 83-82 with just over four minutes to play, the Wizards scored nine straight points on two dunks, two layups and a free throw to push the lead to 10 points.
BOSTON — Avery Bradley scored 22 points, Phil Pressey had a career-high 13 assists and Boston held off Charlotte’s late surge to snap a nine-game losing streak.
Boston led 104-103 before Jared Sullinger made two free throws with 2.5 seconds left. Charlotte called timeout then got the ball to Jannero Pargo, who missed a straightaway 3-point shot as time expired.
The Bobcats were led by Al Jefferson with 32 points and 10 rebounds and Gary Neal with 13 points.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant scored 27 points, Russell Westbrook added 24 and Oklahoma City clinched at least the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
Serge Ibaka added 16 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high eight blocks for the Thunder, who won their third straight.
The Thunder shot 54 from the field, made 23 of 27 free throws and committed just 11 turnovers. Oklahoma City led by 25 points at the end of the third quarter, so Durant and Westbrook rested in the fourth.
Darius Miller scored a career-high 18 points and Austin Rivers had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Pelicans. New Orleans was without injured starters Anthony Davis (back) and Eric Gordon (left knee tendinitis).
GRIZZLIES 117, 76ERS 95
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Marc Gasol had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Mike Miller added 19 points, and Memphis made a strong push in the third quarter to beat Philadelphia.
Tony Allen scored 15 points to help the Grizzlies preserve their playoff hopes. Memphis entered the night trailing the Suns by a game for the Western Conference’s final postseason spot. The Suns were playing San Antonio.
Nick Calathes added 12 points for Memphis, while Zach Randolph finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. The won their 13th straight at home, matching the franchise record set last season.
Tony Wroten and Thaddeus Young led the Sixers with 18 points apiece. Elliot Williams added 13 for Philadelphia, which lost its third straight and fifth in the last six.
BULLS 106, PISTONS 98
CHICAGO — D.J. Augustin scored 24 points, Taj Gibson added 17, and Chicago rallied from 18 down to win its seventh straight.
Carlos Boozer finished with 18 points. Mike Dunleavy Jr. scored all of his 14 in the second half, and the Bulls kept their longest win streak of the season going.
They moved a game ahead of Atlantic Division leader Toronto for third in the Eastern Conference, with the Raptors losing to the New York Knicks. The Bulls also clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with Brooklyn falling to Atlanta.
They trailed 56-38 at the half but turned things around in a big way after that.
MINNEAPOLIS — Corey Brewer scored a career-high 51 points and Gorgui Dieng hit a short jumper with 4.6 seconds to play to lift short-handed Minnesota.
Brewer made 19 of 30 shots, easily surpassing his previous career high of 29 points. He became the fifth player this season to score 50 in a game, and the Wolves scored a staggering 39 points in transition against Houston’s woeful defense.
James Harden hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds to go that tied it at 110, but the rookie Dieng calmly knocked down the game-winner for the Wolves, who were missing All-Star Kevin Love with a hyperextended right elbow.
Harden had 33 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Rockets.
BUCKS 119, CAVS 116
MILWAUKEE — Brandon Knight scored 24 points and Ramon Sessions added 20 as Milwaukee held off Cleveland and preserved its slim hopes of avoiding the NBA’s worst record.
The victory moved the Bucks to within two games of Philadelphia with three games remaining for each team. The 76ers lost at Memphis earlier in the night.
Dion Waiters had 23 points for Cleveland, while Jarrett Jack added 21 and Tristan Thompson 18.
Knight’s jumper from the right wing put the Bucks up for good at 107-106 with 4:09 remaining. Two free throws by Kyrie Irving pulled the Cavaliers within 111-110, but a basket by Khris Middleton and two free throws by Zaza Pachulia made it 115-110 with 1:44 remaining.
TRAIL BLAZERS 111, JAZZ 99
SALT LAKE CITY — Wesley Matthews had 21 points and Damian Lillard scored 14 of his 16 points in a key fourth-quarter run to rally Portland past Utah.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 18 points and 14 rebounds, his 40th double-double, and Nicolas Batum added 15 points to keep Portland in the race to host a first-round playoff series.
Derrick Favors scored 21 points and Enes Kanter had 15 points and 13 rebounds, but the Jazz have lost eight of nine.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Jazz led by two and Lillard hadn’t converted a single field goal.
Over the next 3:24, Lillard made four 3-pointers and a pair of free throws.
After that, the Blazers led by double-digits for the first time at 96-85 with 6:28 remaining and soon earned their seventh victory in their past eight games.