MANILA, Philippines – Playing without All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron James and the Miami Heat stepped on the gas pedal in the second half en route to a 96-72 victory over the visiting Toronto Raptors.
James proved to be more than enough as he tallied 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting, to go along with five rebounds and four assists.
|Miami Heat's Norris Cole (L) collides with Toronto Raptors' Ben Uzoh in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami, Florida April 18, 2012. Photo by Andrew Innerarity, Reuters.
He scored 12 of his game total in the third period, when Miami turned a slim 51-49 advantage into a 74-60 lead.
"My hat's off to Miami. They're a great team," said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. "I'm going to enjoy watching them. I hope my guys were watching and learning, and that they learned from tonight."
The Heat improved to 44-17 this season and clinched at least the second seed in the Eastern Conference. They are 2.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls, whom they will play again on Thursday.
"It's going to be a real good game," James said. "Both teams are still trying to continue to get better. Both teams have some of the same aspirations and that's trying to hold up that trophy at the end of June."
"We'll see what happens, but it doesn't stop the process from us trying to get better each and every game," he added.
The Heat trailed most of the first half but took the lead at the halftime buzzer off a lay-up by James.
His impressive shot was just a prelude to the third quarter, when Miami made 10 of their 16 field goal attempts to break open the game.
With Miami extending their lead to as much as 26 points, James was able to get some rest on the bench as he played only 30 minutes.
The Heat have five games remaining on their schedule and they will still have a chance to catch the Bulls for the number one seed, especially if they win in their upcoming match-up on Thursday.
"I know the guys will be looking forward to it. We have a very competitive group," Spoelstra said.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks dominated the Detroit Pistons, 116-84.
The Hawks reserves scored a combined 72 points, with Tracy McGrady (17 points) and Ivan Johnson (16 points, 10 rebounds) leading the way.
None of Atlanta's starters played more than 22 minutes thanks to the strong effort from its bench.
"We provide a different kind of spark with the guys we have coming off the bench," said McGrady. "Some of those guys could be starters on other teams."
Greg Monroe had 17 points for the Pistons, who could not build on their dominant victory over the Cavs the previous game.
The Pistons had trounced the Cavaliers in their previous contest, 116-77, but played poorly against the Hawks, shooting only 35% from the field and committing 14 turnovers.
"One day you play like a king, one day, you don't. This was quite a reversal," Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said.
The Memphis Grizzlies clinched a playoff spot for the second straight season after trouncing the New Orleans Hornets, 103-91.
Rudy Gay had 26 points, Mike Conley added 20 points and the Grizzlies snapped the Hornets' four-game winning streak.