If the Heat is going to make a run at the Indiana Pacers and the No.
1 seed in the Eastern Conference, Miami has got to bottle up what came out Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers for 3 1/2 quarters.
The final six minutes? Miami can leave those behind.
Less than 48 hours after he and birthday boy Chris Bosh let out their frustrations following the Heat’s seventh loss in its past 11 games, LeBron James guided the defending champions back in the right direction with a thrilling 93-91 win over Portland at AmericanAirlines Arena.
James recorded 32 points, six rebounds (four offensive), five assists, four steals and drove past Robin Lopez for the winning layup with 11 seconds left to help the Heat avert blowing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead.
Bosh then preserved the final margin when he blocked Damian Lillard’s floater through the lane before time expired.
“We kind of figured [Lillard] was going to go for the win,” said Bosh, who had 15 points, eight rebounds and four of the Heat’s 14 steals.
“He’s had a couple game winners from the three. Norris [Cole] did a good job of running him off and making sure he didn’t get the shot he wanted. Soon as he picked the ball up I was able to pick up the flight of the ball and play help defense.”
Said coach Erik Spoelstra of Bosh: “If you’re going to go out there and put it on your shoulders you have to make plays and he did. That’s what good defensive teams do, you have to make plays that are out of the box.”
Playing good defense is ultimately what this win was all about.
The Heat (48-21) hadn’t been playing very much of it of late, giving up better than 50 percent shooting six times in its previous dozen games.
Easy baskets in a loss to New Orleans on Saturday led Bosh and James to openly question the passion and lack of communication the Heat had on the defensive end.
Miami responded by holding the Blazers (45-26) — who put up a whopping 39 three-pointers (they made 11) — to 37.8 percent shooting, their sixth-lowest field-goal percentage of the season. It was the first time the Heat has held an opponent below 40 percent since a 108-82 blowout of the Knicks on Feb. 27.
“It’s about having that urgency,” said Bosh, who turned 30 on Monday and who celebrated his birthday with his teammates Sunday with a carnival-style bash at Marlins Park. “We just have to that awareness. Each basket we give up they should really have to work for it, and we should be really mad and upset if somebody scores on us.
“Not to the point where we argue and fuss, but move onto the next play. We just have to be held to our standards and the locker room has to do a better job of doing that. I think we took a step [Monday night], and we have to continue to show some progression the rest of the season.”
Of course, Monday’s win wouldn’t have been possible without James’ effort. Playing without Dwyane Wade for the 19th time this season and in back-to-back games, James came out aggressive early and took a season-high 12 shots in the first quarter.
The Heat took a 46-42 lead into the half despite shooting only 41 percent from the field. The biggest factors: Portland shot 37 percent, and the Heat’s aggressiveness around the rim. Miami scored 30 points in the paint, led by James’ five dunks. He led the Heat with 17 points at the break.
James even got a celebratory chest bump from Spoelstra midway through the second quarter.
“We needed some life,” James said. “That’s what it’s about — showing emotion. This game is too fun, too precious and you shouldn’t take it for granted. Have emotion when you’re out here. It was great to have it right there.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Miami’s lead stretched to 17 points thanks to some energy and toughness from Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who played 23 minutes and scored 13 points, blocked two shots and grabbed 11 rebounds off the bench.
Greg Oden made his fifth start at center and played a season-high 15 minutes, scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds. Spoelstra said he had to ignore Oden’s waves to the bench to get a breather last Friday against Memphis. There were no waves to the bench by Oden on Monday.
Up next: a trip to Indiana on Wednesday. The Pacers, who lost to the Chicago Bulls on Monday, have a two-game lead over the Heat for home-court advantage in the East.
“I miss the Pacers,” Bosh said. “It’s coming down to a photo finish and we have a unique opportunity. No matter what happened this whole season, were within striking distance. We’ve been putting the No. 1 seed off. It’s here. It will be a great playoff atmosphere. I can’t wait to play there Wednesday.”