MIAMI -- Official Ed Malloy was squinting at the monitor, watching Eddie House blast Blake Griffin and ruin a potential highlight transition dunk for about the fifth time, trying to decide whether or not to eject House with a flagrant foul.
Frustrated with the waiting, LeBron James called over from the Heat beach.
“I’ve got a Super Bowl party to go to, c’mon,” James said.
James and the Miami Heat were indeed all business in their Super Sunday matinee, taking apart the Los Angeles Clippers 97-79 for their sixth consecutive win. After getting derailed in the back half of January with injuries to James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the Heat are healthy again and winning again. It’s beginning to get them focused on playoff seeding.
“Now it is time to start thinking about the standings and really start feeling out where you want to be in the playoffs,” said Bosh, who had 16 points against L.A. “Everybody wants that No. 1 seed. … We have to maintain our sense of urgency.”
Despite a 2-6 slide during the spate of injuries, which started when James sprained his ankle in Los Angeles in a loss to the Clippers last month, the Heat have some traction again. Their defense, which held the Clippers to 33 percent shooting, is putting some performances together and their offense is getting more consistent.
Right now the Heat are also enjoying a softer part of the schedule. Sunday marked the second of an eight-game stretch in which there’s just one contest against a team with a winning record. That exception is the Boston Celtics, who will host the Heat in a potential judgment game next Sunday.
Their recent positive stretch has put the Heat right to the Celtics’ heels in the Eastern Conference standings and also enabled Miami to hold off the charging Bulls, who are right behind them. In case you haven’t been following, those teams are intensifying the race for the top three seeds.
Already 0-2 against Boston this season following losses in October and November before they’d found a stride, the Heat can’t help but focus on the Celtics now that they’re mostly healthy.
“I think we have big-picture and small-picture goals,” James said. “You can’t help but to look at the big picture. There are games that mean a lot. That game next Sunday could mean a lot if we continue to handle business right now.”
This Sunday that meant avenging last month’s loss, where the Heat were steamrolled for 44 points in the first quarter at Staples Center as they were overwhelmed by Griffin and some of his energetic teammates. This time, perhaps with some help from an early tip-off in a popular road city, the Clippers didn’t score their 44th point until well into the third quarter.
Griffin had his moments, throwing down three dunks and racking up 21 points with 16 rebounds as he builds another double-double streak. But he was just 7-of-17 shooting and that still represented the best offensive option the Clippers had.
“We came out with incredible energy at both ends of the court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We were as active as we can be.”
Spoelstra has slowly turned up the praise on his team during the winning streak. While he’s attempted to sequester his team from expectations and urged them to pay attention to the in-house schedule of development during the season, this recent streak has even allowed the coach to start peeking at the standings.
“This last two to three weeks has been a segment of the year where we feel we’re getting complete,” Spoelstra said. “Guys are encouraged by our health and everyone is getting comfortable in their roles. We can make a push and get some momentum going into the break. It’s not the most important thing right now. We’re not obsessed with the other teams in the standings but what I told the guys is we might as well as put ourselves in position next Sunday to pass [the Celtics].”
Looking a bit ahead, past Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers and Friday’s game in the Detroit Pistons, marks an unexpected departure in decorum from Spoelstra.
But he seems to be saying what all of his players must be allowing themselves to think now that the injuries and early-season issues appear to have been ironed out.
Some players, it seems, are allowing themselves to consider the current string of games and what their relevance could mean months from now. That’s prudent, of course. But it is also a sign of the Heat’s rising confidence.
“We’d rather play a Game 7 in Miami than in Boston if it comes down to it,” Bosh said. “It puts extra importance on every game we play right now. We can catch them if we play consistent.”