Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) is pressured by Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Photo by Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.
MIAMI - The NBA champion Miami Heat routed the Indiana Pacers 98-86 on Friday to position themselves to nab the number one seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
LeBron James scored a game-high 36 points, and while the Heat haven't locked up the top seed, they control their own fate with three games remaining in the regular season against the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers.
"I would love to see us play with this identity, to our identity, (Saturday) night," was Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's only comment on the seedings race.
"If we do that," Spoelstra said, "the results take care of themselves."
Meanwhile the Pacers, who trail Miami by one half-game for the top spot in the East, face a tough clash with Western Conference powerhouse Oklahoma City before ending their regular season at Orlando.
The Heat, who were without Dwyane Wade for a ninth straight game because of a hamstring injury, used a lopsided third quarter to put the game away.
James scored 13 of his points in the period, in which the Heat built a three-point halftime lead into a 23-point advantage.
Mario Chalmers finished with 13 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Udonis Haslem scored 11 points with nine rebounds in the convincing victory.
The defeat was just the latest in Indiana's late-season swoon. Paul George and David West were the only starters to score in double-digits, George scoring 22 points and West contributing 18.
Roy Hibbert was limited to five points on 2-of-6 shooting, and pulled down only one rebound.
Elsewhere in the East, the New York Knicks kept their slim post-season hopes alive with a 108-100 victory over playoff-bound Toronto.
Carmelo Anthony scored 30 points with eight rebounds for the Knicks, who remain two games behind Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
Atlanta moved a step closer to punching their post-season ticket with a 93-88 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Paul Millsap scored 27 points with 10 rebounds and Jeff Teague chipped in 22 points for the Hawks, who snapped the Nets' 15-game home winning streak.
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