CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was the quickest of glances, but it was powerful all the same.
With Game 3 of the Heat’s first-round playoff series quickly getting out of hand, LeBron James picked the pocket of Charlotte Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts and sprinted down the court for a breakaway dunk. Just before liftoff, James shot a look at the end of the Bobcats’ bench. That’s where Michael Jordan was sitting.
James’ Tomahawk dunk sent the arena’s Heat fans to their feet, and there were plenty of Heat fans at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday night for Miami’s 98-85 victory. The arena announced a record crowd for its first playoff game since 2010: 19,633. The Heat now leads the Bobcats 3-0 in this best-of-7 series, and the two-time defending champions can sweep the series on Monday.
Unless Jordan comes off that bench 20 years younger, his seventh-seeded Bobcats don’t seem to have much of a chance. After the game, James shrugged off his glance in Jordan’s direction.
“Don’t start that,” James said. “I absolutely did not look in his direction.”
Whether he peeked at Jordan or not, James is only 48 minutes away from sweeping Jordan’s team. The Heat doesn’t want a fifth game back in Miami.
“We don’t want the series to go longer than it needs to,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The NBA’s playoffs have featured one compelling and competitive series after another to begin the postseason … with one exception, of course. The Heat, which now has not lost a first-round game since Game 4 against the Knicks in 2012, has used its series with the Bobcats to tune up and prepare itself for a long run to June. The Heat appeared to be in top form on Saturday.
Led by James and Dwyane Wade, the Heat led by 12 at halftime and then easily pulled away at the beginning of the third quarter. James finished with 30 points, going 10 of 18 from the field and 9 of 10 from the free-throw line. He also had nine rebounds and six assists.
Wade, worlds away from where he was physically at this time last year, had 17 points to go along with six assists and three rebounds. Wade injured his knee last year in Game 3 of the Heat’s first-round series against the Bucks and went 1 of 12 from the field for four points. The injury affected him throughout the playoffs and required significant therapy in the offseason.
After missing 28 games in the regular season, Wade has started the postseason healthy and rested. He made the game-clinching steal in the final two seconds of the Game 2 victory and had two impressive dunks in the third quarter of Game 3 during the Heat’s biggest run of the game.
Chris Bosh finished with eight points, going 2 of 2 from three-point range. Coming into Game 3, Bosh was 6 of 9 from three-point range in the series. Chris Andersen had 12 points off the bench. Ray Allen and Norris Cole had eight points each off the bench. Allen was 2 of 4 from three-point range, Cole was 2 of 2 from long distance and the Heat shot 9 of 18 on three-pointers.
Center Al Jefferson led the Bobcats with 20 points, going 8 of 13 from the field. The Bobcats shot 41.5 percent as a team. Point guard Kemba Walker was 4 of 7 from the field for 13 points in 27 minutes. Chris Douglas-Roberts had 17 points off the bench for Charlotte.
The Heat outscored the Bobcats 63-38 between the second and third quarters, and Spoelstra credited Bosh’s helping defense with limiting the Bobcats to seven points in the first eight minutes of the third period.
The Heat committed just seven turnovers while dishing out 26 assists on 36 field goals. Miami led 58-46 at halftime, with the team shooting 6 of 8 from three-point range.
“We’re the best offensive team and we shoot a high percentage every game, and we understand that we give ourselves a great chance when we don’t turn it over, and on the road you definitely can’t turn it over because that triggers transition,” Cole said.
A putback dunk by Wade gave the Heat a 64-47 lead with 8:28 left in the third quarter. Following a timeout by the Bobcats, James scored four points in a row, including his bench-glancing breakaway dunk, and the rout was on.
The Heat outscored the Bobcats 21-7 to begin the third quarter, with another dunk by Wade, this time from the baseline, giving Miami a 76-53 lead. On the Heat’s next possession, James Jones made his only three-pointer of the game to give the Heat a 26-point lead. A three-pointer by Allen gave the Heat an 89-65 lead to begin the fourth quarter.