If that was the best the Eastern Conference has to offer the Heat in the form of competition, maybe coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff of assistants should start scouting Western Conference opponents right now.
Or maybe they already have.
Victory No. 18 of the Heat’s current winning streak — a 105-91 confidence-obliterating blowout of the Indiana Pacers — offered more overwhelming proof that Miami is ready for the playoffs and everybody else appears ready to just get out of the way.
Yes, the Pacers have defeated the Heat twice this season. No, those previous two losses mean absolutely nothing after Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
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How’s this for a perspective of how well Miami is playing right now? LeBron James finished with 13 points, his lowest scoring total of the season, and the Heat dominated the second-best team in the East.
“We just did what we’re supposed to do, win at home versus this team,” Dwyane Wade said. “I thought it was one of the better games we’ve played against a very good team.”
It was the Heat’s first victory over the Pacers this season and Miami can extend its franchise-best winning streak to 19 wins Tuesday against the Hawks.
James said afterwards that he’s enjoying the streak but added “our goal isn’t to win games consecutively. It’s to win a championship.”
Right now, it appears the Heat is well on its way to at least playing for one.
Indiana entered the game with a reputation for having the best defense in the NBA. After all, the Pacers were only allowing teams to shoot 41.4 percent against their defense.
The Heat (47-14) flirted with 60 percent shooting from the field before settling at 55.9 percent shooting after Spoelstra pulled his starters in the fourth quarter.
James had one of his quietest nights of the season offensively but it didn’t matter. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers each scored more than 20 points.
Chalmers led the Heat with 26 points, going 7 of 9 from the field and 7 of 7 from the free-throw line. His three-pointer with seven minutes left in the third quarter gave Miami a 20-point lead. That led ballooned to 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“We knew they were going to take away our fast-break points, so we wanted to work on our execution,” Chalmers said. “We came out played together and everyone shared the ball. Everybody did all the little things to help us win.”
Chalmers’ effort from behind the three-point arc was no small thing. He was 5 of 6 from distance.
“He was taking shots he is capable of making, reading the defense,” Spoelstra said of Chalmers. “He must be aggressive against the better defensive teams of the league and he was tonight.”
Bosh finished with 24 points, beating Pacers center Roy Hibbert with a mix of jump shots and drives to the basket. The Heat’s versatile big man shot 11 of 15 from the field to go along with three assists and two rebounds.
“There are not many guys like Chris in this league where you can space him out behind the three-point line, you can put him at the elbow or you can put him in the post,” Spoelstra said. “There’s a lot of places you can put him. That’s why he’s such a critical component to what we do.”
Wade had 23 points, shooting 9 of 16 from the field and 5 of 6 from the free-throw line, but his biggest contribution was a relentless energy on the defensive end. He finished with six steals, setting the tone for his team. Overall, the Heat forced 18 turnovers and converted them into 27 points. Miami had 10 steals as a team.
David West, always a matchup problem for the Heat and forward Shane Battier, led the Pacers with 24 points, going 7 of 10 from the field.
“We didn’t respond to the challenge,” West said of the difficult overall matchup against the Heat.