And now the playoffs can begin for the Heat.
After a regular season filled with worry and doubt, inconsistency and indifference, the Heat settled for a No. 2 seed in the NBA playoffs and a first-round matchup with the up-and-coming Charlotte Bobcats.
Turns out, that was the best medicine for a team of defending back-to-back champions that might not have been completely ready for the postseason.
The Heat swept the Bobcats out of the playoffs 4-0 on Monday at Time Warner Cable Arena with a 109-98 victory in Game 4 of the best-of-7 series. The sweep was the only one among the NBA’s eight first-round playoff series.
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For the rest of the week, the Heat will rest and wait to see whether it plays the Toronto Raptors or Brooklyn Nets in the second round. The series between the Raptors and Nets is tied 2-2.
The Heat was 4-0 against the Raptors this season and 0-4 against the Nets.
“I think Toronto has played phenomenal,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 15 points in 30 minutes. “Obviously it’s 2-2 and none of us know what to expect out of that series. I looked forward watching it and seeing who comes out of that series, but it’s two different styles.”
Sunday is the earliest the Heat’s second round could begin. That’s plenty of rest days while the Nets and Raptors slug it out.
“I’m sure our guys will love [the rest], but the most important thing is the opportunity to move on,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Nothing is guaranteed. We understand how fragile it is and how tough it is to win in this league. We’re very pleased.”
The Bobcats were a worthy foe for the first quarter of the first game of the first-round playoff series. But then the team’s best player, center Al Jefferson, partially tore the plantar fascia in his left foot, and the injury handicapped Charlotte for the rest of the series.
Jefferson soldiered on through three games but did not play Monday. Overmatched, the Bobcats kept things interesting for three quarters, but the Heat pulled away in final 12 minutes of the game.
“We got tested and that was great,” LeBron James said. “We got tested by a young and scrappy Bobcats team.”
James finished with 31 points, going 10 of 19 from the field and 10 of 12 from the free-throw line. He also had seven rebounds and nine assists despite a nasty blow to his leg in the third quarter.
There was a tense moment with 8:43 left in the third when James went down under the Heat’s basket. He collided with Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo, and the Heat called a timeout while James writhed in pain. He limped off the court but returned following the play stoppage.
Less than two minutes later, James scored seven consecutive points to give the Heat a 68-65 lead.
“The thigh is definitely sore, so I’m fortunate that we were able to close out [Monday night] so we can get some rest,” said James, who averaged 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the series.
Wade’s 15 points came on 11 shots, and he averaged 17.5 points per game for the series. More importantly, he finished the series injury free.
Wade missed 28 games this season to preserve his knees for the playoffs. He missed Game 4 of the Heat’s 2013 first-round series with an injury and would struggle with knee soreness through the playoffs.
Chris Bosh had 17 points, going 7 of 12 from the field. He also had eight rebounds. Bosh was 1 of 2 from three-point range in Game 4 to finish 9 of 13 from behind the arc (69.2 percent) for the series.
Norris Cole had 13 points off the bench to cap a strong first-round series, and starting point guard Mario Chalmers finished with 10 points. James Jones, who emerged during the series as an unlikely rotation player, had three three-pointers for nine points.
The Heat committed fewer than 10 turnovers (eight) for the second playoff game in a row. Meanwhile, Miami forced 16 turnovers, which led to 22 points.
“The last month-and-half to two months we did a horrible job of taking care of the ball and that is the one thing coming out of this series that we want to carry on to the next series — the way we protected the ball,” James said. “We didn’t turn the ball over, and that gave us a great chance to get great shots.”
Before the game and at halftime, Heat players wore their warm-ups inside-out as a show of solidarity with the Los Angeles Clippers, who have been dealing with a controversy involving team owner Donald Sterling. A person purported to be Sterling was recorded allegedly making racist comments and the audio file was leaked to TMZ.com this week.
The resulting distraction caused by the story has marred the first-round of the playoffs. The Clippers turned their warm-ups inside-out on Sunday.
“I think the Clippers did a great job of sticking together as a team, and we are all in this together,” Wade said. “We just supported what they did and followed their blueprint.”