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What we learned from Heat’s win over the Pacers

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LeBron James played, and the Miami Heat won.

So what else can we take out of Wednesday night’s 97-94 Heat win over the Indiana Pacers?

-- As far as any playoff implications, not much. Though the game did have an intensity about it not usually found not at this point of the NBA’s 82-game season, it still is December.

Obviously, much can change between now and April, when playoffs begin. Consider, after 25 games last year, the Pacers were only 13-12 and hardly had the look of a club that would take the Heat to the full seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.

That the 20-5 Pacers are one-game up on the 19-6 Heat in the Eastern Conference this time around is interesting but not particularly meaningful at this stage.

If anything, it should be a little unsettling for the Pacers, since they have made such a big deal out of finishing the season with the best record in the conference so they can have home-court advantage if (when?) they meet the Heat in the playoffs. All that work and the Pacers still could be behind the Heat by the time the new year arrives.

-- Dwayne Wade showed he still can take over a game. With James playing with a sore ankle (he had missed the previous day’s workout and the morning shoot-around) and in foul trouble as well, Wade stepped up with a season-high 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting. Of that total, 14 points came after the Heat fell behind by 15 points midway through the third quarter. The Heat outscored the Pacers 44-26 over the last 18 minutes.

-- James, by the way, ended up playing just over 36 minutes, scoring 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting and just missing a double-double, settling for nine rebounds. He also had a game-high seven assists.

-- The game also showed that it’s not so much how many 3-pointers you can that can make a difference but when you make them. For the game, the Heat were only 5-of-21 from behind the 3-point arc, but two came in the final minute-and-a-half.

Chris Bosh, who had missed 15 consecutive 3-pointers, hit one with 1:30 left to tie it 92-92, and then Ray Allen, who had looked bad in missing his first three attempts against the Pacers, swished one with 59.5 seconds left to break the tie.

-- Coach Frank Vogel has done a great job for the Pacers, but you have to wonder what comes over him when he steps inside Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena. In last year’s opening game of the conference finals, he didn’t have his 7-2 shot-blocking center Roy Hibbert on the floor in the final seconds, clearing the way for James to hit a game-winning layup just before the buzzer.

In this game, Vogel inexplicably left Hibbert on the floor after Hibbert picked up fourth personal foul with 8:34 left in the third quarter. A minute later, Hibbert picked up his fifth and went to the bench until 6:12 remained in the game.

The Heat were trailing 58-49 when Hibbert went out and were down by six at 84-78 (seconds later it was four at 84-80) when he returned. Hibbert’s hook shot at 3:52 got the Pacers up by eight at 90-82, but the Heat then went on their 15-4 closing run.

At the risk of second-guessing, you have to think the Pacers would have been much better off sitting Hibbert after he picked up his fourth foul and then had him back on the floor at the start of the fourth quarter, which began with the Pacers holding a 76-71 lead.

-- The Heat’s comeback win gave the two teams a split of their first two meetings, the Pacers having won 90-84 in Indianapolis the week before. They won’t play again until March 26, when they meet in Indianapolis. A fourth matchup is set for Miami on April 11.

They could be distinctly different teams by then.

The Heat will have Michael Beasley, who was beginning to emerge as a solid option off the bench until missing the last four games with a hamstring injury, back, and they could have center Greg Oden available as well. The Pacers also could have a deeper lineup with Danny Grainger returning from injury.

It’s something to look forward to.

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