For a little over three quarters Monday night, the Miami Heat showed the self-criticism they had indulged in after Saturday night’s desultory performance in the loss at New Orleans was paying off.
The Heat were leading 72-61 going into the final quarter against Portland and quickly boosted that up to 78-61 in less than two minutes of the fourth quarter.
The offense was crisp and sharp, the defense relentless, and they were even winning the rebounding by a 35-33 margin with 10 of the boards at their own end.
But things quickly turned with the visiting Trail Blazers outscoring the Heat 30-13 over a 10-minute period to pull even at 91-91 in the closing seconds.
It took LeBron James’ power drive to the basket and layup with 11.4 seconds left and Chris Bosh’s block of Damian Lillard’s shot at the other end of the court for the Heat to secure the 93-91 victory.
So while there was plenty of good stuff going on to make Heat fans comfortable that the defending NBA champions are breaking out of the slump that saw them lose seven of 11 games before Monday, there also was that little nagging doubt that they haven’t solved all their recent problems and they still have work to be do.
And that work will begin in earnest when the Heat visit Indianapolis Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and Sun Sports) to take on the Pacers in the first of the two remaining games between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
With the Pacers losing Monday night at Chicago, the gap between the two teams has closed to two games overall. In the “lost” column, however, the Heat have pulled to within one game with 21 losses to the 20 for the Pacers with one more meeting coming up April 11 in Miami.
The Heat should be back at full strength for this one. Guard Dwyane Wade sat out the win over Portland and the loss to the Pelicans two nights because of an ankle problem but is expected to play against the Pacers, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Overall, he has missed 18 games, usually to rest his tender knees. But he said his knees “feel good” now, according to the newspaper report.
Except for backups Andrew Bynum (knee) and C.J. Watson (hamstring), the Pacers are healthy, but aren’t exactly coming into the game on a high note.
They have lost seven of their last 12 games overall and of their four losses at home for the season, three have come in their last 14 games on their Bankers Life Fieldhouse home court. But a victory could be the springboard for them to get things back on track in their quest for the top playoff seed in the East.
Not that a Miami win is going to clinch anything for the Heat. But it would be a good indication those first three quarters against Portland are a sign that the Heat is on its way to getting things right again. And it would continue to sow doubts in the minds of the Pacers.