MIAMI (AP) — For most of the season, the Miami Heat were chasing the Indiana Pacers.
On Friday, they just blew by them.
Control of the Eastern Conference again belongs to the Heat, after LeBron James scored 36 points and the two-time defending NBA champions opened the second half with a 16-0 run on the way to beating the Pacers 98-86 — a win that vaulted Miami a half-game ahead of Indiana in the race for a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
"This is not the biggest game we've played in our four years together," James said. "It's always great to have competitive games like this in the regular season. I mean, we've played Game 7 in the Finals before. It doesn't get no bigger than that."
True, but this had plenty of meaning.
Miami (54-25) leads the Pacers (54-26) by the slimmest of margins in the East race. The Heat play at Atlanta on Saturday, at Washington on Monday and then close at home against Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Win them all, and the road to the East title goes through Miami, again.
"We know what's going on out there," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "We know what's going to happen. We're in the middle of trying to put everything together for ourselves and I think today was a good step forward for us."
Mario Chalmers scored 13, Udonis Haslem added 11 and Bosh and Ray Allen each scored 10 for the Heat, who had lost two straight and were looking up at Indiana for much of the season in the East standings.
Paul George scored 22 for Indiana, which got 18 from David West, 12 from Luis Scola and 11 from Lance Stephenson. Pacers center. Roy Hibbert had only five points and one rebound, grabbing it with just over 2 minutes left in the game.
"We're still a good basketball team," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "I think we're taking steps to get ready."
The Pacers — who sat their starters against Milwaukee on Wednesday in an effort to rest for this one, and have insisted throughout this season that they wanted the No. 1 seed after losing a Game 7 in Miami to close the East finals a year ago — still play Oklahoma City and Orlando.
"As of now it's not in our hands," George said, "and we're perfectly fine with it."
After a few minutes of the third quarter, this game wasn't in Indiana's hands, either.
Chalmers opened the 16-0 barrage with a 3-pointer, James hit a pair of free throws after taking a hard foul from West in transition, and a steal and layup from Toney Douglas forced the Pacers to call time down by 10.