The Miami Heat received good news of a sort Thursday when the NBA declined to tack on a suspension to the flagrant foul that was assessed against LeBron James during Wednesday night’s loss to the Indiana Pacers.
James hit Pacers center Roy Hibbert in the chin with an elbow as he drove to the basket in the fourth quarter. Hibbert was knocked to the floor and, after being helped up by teammates, fell to the floor again before being taken to the locker room.
While one official seemed to be ready to call a blocking foul on Hibbert, another whistled for James for a charge and then confirmed it a flagrant one violation after a video review.
Hibbert returned to the court to shoot two free throws, then left to have what was reported as a cut tongue tended to. He later returned to the game.
There had been some speculation following the game that James might be suspended for Friday night’s outing at Detroit, but the league simply confirmed the flagrant foul was a correct call and closed the matter at that.
Meanwhile, the Heat were left trying to recover from the impact of the 84-83 loss that left them three games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers overall and two games in the “lost” column in the race for the East’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
The Heat, who nearly blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s win over Portland in their previous outing, struggled again in the fourth quarter.
After assuming an 80-76 lead with 3:23 left in the game, they didn’t score again until Chris Bosh hit a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left to pull them to within 84-83.
After the Pacers’ George Hill missed two free throws with 2.3 seconds remaining, the Heat rebounded and called time with 2.0 seconds left. That gave them the opportunity for a game-winning shot, but Bosh was woefully short on a jumper from 22 feet.
Overall, the Heat were outscored 21-15, shot only 30.8 percent (4-of-13) from the field, were outrebounded 8-7, and made seven turnovers to one for Indiana in the fourth quarter.
They also finished the game with Dwyane Wade on the bench nursing a hamstring injury. He left at the 1:59 mark of the fourth quarter. Backup guard Ray Allen, who has averaged 14 points a game over his last three outings, also was a last-minute scratch because of the flu.
Not that the Pacers were all that overwhelming. It took a rare 3-pointer from David West, only his fourth of the season, for them to take a four-point lead in the final minute.
The Pacers were only 8-of-21 in the fourth quarter but had two steals that helped them cut a 70-63 deficit entering the period to 70-67 less than two minutes into it.
Though Miami can even the season series with Indiana by winning the final meeting on April 11, the Pacers now hold the tiebreaker for the top seed should the regular season end knotted up because they will have the better conference record.
The Pacers have 10 games remaining with six on the road, starting with Friday night’s game at Washington.
The Heat have 12 games left with only five on the road. The game with the Pistons (7:30 ET, Sun Sports) is the first of three remaining back-to-back affairs. They are at Milwaukee on Saturday night.
The other two times the Heat must play on consecutive nights are April 8 vs. Brooklyn and April 9 at Memphis and April 11 vs. Indiana and April 12 at Atlanta.