The Miami Heat wind up a four-game homestand Monday night when they host Charlotte before beginning a critical three-game road swing that will start Tuesday night in Houston.
The Heat have won their last seven games and 10 of their last 11 outings to close to within 2 1/2 games of the Pacers in the standings, but they are only one game back in the “lost” column.
That’s what really counts because a team can make up a deficit in wins on its own but needs help to catch a team in losses.
The Heat moved to 42-14 with their 112-98 rout of Orlando in Miami Saturday night. The Pacers improved to 46-13 with their 94-91 victory over Utah Sunday night.
The Heat have 26 games remaining in the regular season, the Pacers have 23. Of the Heat’s remaining games, 14 are at home. The Pacers have a like number left on the road. Each as a home game against each other remaining, in Indianapolis on March 26 and in Miami on April 11.
If the Heat can survive unscathed the next three games, they could have a good shot at catching and perhaps even passing the Pacers over the next few days.
By late next Sunday night, the Heat will have played the Hornets and then gone on the road to face a Houston team that has won 11 of its last 13 games, a San Antonio club that has won six of its last seven, and a Bulls team that is 9-1 its last 10 outings.
Meanwhile, the Pacers will be hosting the Golden State Warriors and then going on the road to Charlotte, Houston, and Dallas over the same span.
The key for the Heat the rest of the way will be having a healthy Dwayne Wade in the lineup. Since returning from the All-Star Game break, the veteran guard with sometimes gimpy knees has been on a tear.
After scoring 13 points in a win at Dallas the first outing after the break, Wade has had 24 points and 10 assists in a win at Oklahoma City, 23 points and seven assists against the Bulls, 23 points and one assist against New York, and 24 points and four assists against Orlando.
He is 45 of 63 (71.4 percent) from the field in that stretch.
Chris Bosh also has come up huge. In the last five games, he has averaged 17.4 points a game and shot 55.2 percent from the field. When LeBron James sat out the game against the Bulls, Bosh stepped up with a 28 points, three short of his season high (31 vs the Lakers on Jan. 23).
Speaking of James, not even a broken nose has slowed the Heat’s superstar. Playing with a face mask the last two outings, James has scored 51 points on 21-of-31 (67.7 percent) shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds, and handed out 11 assists.
He had his streak of 30-plus points games end at five when he scored only 20 in the win over Orlando, but a big reason for that was because he played only 31 minutes total and sat out the fourth quarter entirely as the Heat toyed with the Magic.
In other words, the Heat seem to be geared up for the kind of closing run they had last season when they won 37 of their last 39 games, including 27 in a row. They’re not going to match that, but they don’t have to. They just need to win enough to keep the pressure on the Pacers.