The Miami Heat may be rolling, but they're still far from their ultimate goal of winning a third straight title.
While the Charlotte Bobcats are making a run at just their second postseason berth in franchise history, a challenging stretch seems to be showing just how much work they have to do before becoming a contender.
Miami will try to humble Charlotte again as it seeks its 16th straight victory in the series against the visiting Bobcats on Monday night.
The Heat (42-14) have won seven in a row and 10 of 11 while matching last season's best 56-game start in franchise history. Miami has shot 53.8 percent from the field or better in five of six in addition to limiting opponents to 43.4 percent shooting or worse in each of the last five games.
"Defensively we're flying around and we're communicating," LeBron James said. "And offensively, obviously we're playing at a high level."
James tallied 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in Saturday's 112-98 win over Orlando while wearing an NBA-requested clear protective mask as opposed to the black one he donned for Thursday's blowout of the New York Knicks, his first game since suffering a broken nose on Feb. 20 against Oklahoma City. Though Saturday's contest ended a five-game streak of scoring at least 31 points, he was 8 of 12 and is shooting 62.9 percent during Miami's winning streak.
Coach Erik Spoelstra's staggered days of rest for Dwyane Wade appears to be paying off with the 11th-year guard scoring 22-plus in six of his last nine while shooting 62.0 percent. Wade is shooting a career-best 55.5 percent overall.
But for all of the Heat's success - they're 2 1/2 games behind Indiana for the Eastern Conference lead - president Pat Riley offered a more grounded evaluation.
"We're playing very well right now, but every day you keep ratcheting up what you need to do to get ready for what you know is going to be an incredibly competitive playoff," Riley said. "Right now, you have to keep in mind we have a long way to go."
Charlotte has struggled to provide Miami with much competition, failing to beat the Heat since March 9, 2010. With three wins already over the Bobcats this season - including a 104-96 overtime road victory on Jan. 18 - the Heat can clinch their fourth straight season sweep Monday.
The Bobcats (27-32) won a season-best four in a row from Feb. 18-22, but have taken a step back following losses at league elites San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The schedule won't get any easier after facing Miami with the league-leading Pacers visiting on Wednesday.
Charlotte, which currently is seventh in the East as the franchise aims for its first playoff appearance since 2009-10, was dominated inside in a 116-99 loss to the Thunder on Sunday. The Bobcats, who were outscored 31-18 in the fourth quarter, were outrebounded 44-29 and outscored 50-32 in the paint.
'I think through three quarters we did a good job, but we came out in the fourth, and again, particularly when they brought their starters back, we just couldn't contain the ball and couldn't keep the ball out of the paint, which has been something we've been good at all year,' Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said.
Al Jefferson scored 25, marking his 11th performance with 25 or more in his last 15 contests.
James is averaging 30.6 points while shooting 69.0 percent (58 for 84) over his last five matchups with Charlotte.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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