Heat | Looking ahead

Sweep gives the Heat some much-needed time off

 
 
Heat forward LeBron James grimaces in pain after taking a knee in the right thigh in the third quarter of Game 4 against the Bobcats in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Heat forward LeBron James grimaces in pain after taking a knee in the right thigh in the third quarter of Game 4 against the Bobcats in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Jeff Siner / MCT

Special to the Miami Herald

Heat coach Eric Spoelstra worried before the start of Monday’s NBA playoff game that the Charlotte Bobcats would find a way to force another game.

As it turned out, Spoelstra’s fears weren’t totally unfounded, but the Heat gets to take a few much-needed days off after completing a four-game sweep of the Bobcats with a 109-98 victory.

“The best thing about this series is that we improved every game — that’s the most important thing,” said LeBron James, who had 31 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

“As far as me physically, I feel pretty good. Yeah, I’ve got a few bruises, but who doesn’t at this point of the season?”

It was the second first-round playoff sweep in a row for the defending NBA champions and improved Miami’s record to 16-2 in first-round games in the James era.

“I’m sure our guys will love [the time off],” Spoelstra said. “But the most important thing is that we advanced. Nothing is guaranteed.

“Some people would look at this 2-7 matchup and say we’re supposed to win, but we’re not looking at it that way. A couple bounces here and there and it could have been a little different.”

None of those bounces mattered more than James, who had seven consecutive points to kick off a 23-7 run to close out the third quarter that put the Heat in command of Monday’s game.

However, the run came after James gave Miami a scare — he went down hard with less than nine minutes left in the third quarter, and with the game still very much in doubt.

James caught a knee to his right thigh while driving to the basket, and was noticeably limping for several minutes after the injury.

But his three-pointer, followed by a jumper and a fast-break dunk off a steal, ignited the Heat’s run that put kit ahead 84-71 at the end of the period.

“[James] took a thigh contusion,” Spoelstra said. “He’s durable, but we don’t take that for granted. He’s not superhuman, as much as we think he is.

“He plays a physical brand of basketball, he’s aggressive and will attack. It’s essential for him to attack and not settle for long jumpers. But there’s a cost for that. He takes a lot of contact, and he did in this series.”

Now the Heat will get at least a week off while it finds out who its next opponent will be in the playoffs — either the third-seeded Toronto Raptors or the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets.

The Raptors-Nets series is tied 2-2, with Game 5 scheduled for Wednesday in Toronto. If the series goes to seven games, the final game won’t be played until Sunday.

“The thigh is definitely sore,” James said. “But we were fortunate enough to close it out [Monday night], and we can get a little rest … and get ready for who we’ve got to play next.”

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