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Heat Pull Ahead Of Pacers With 9 Games Left

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat made it somewhere Monday night the team hasn't been since the beginning of the season, first place in the Eastern Conference.

Despite missing Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen, the Heat still had more than enough offense and defense from LeBron James and company to take down the Toronto Raptors, 93-83. Combined with an Indiana Pacers loss to the San Antonio Spurs, moved Miami percentage points ahead of Indiana in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat took the Raptors, the number three seed in the Eastern Conference, apart defensively by allowing just 32 points in the second half. It was a vintage Heat defensive performance and gave hope to Heat fans that Miami may be about to switch into overdrive as the playoffs near.

"I think the defense always comes faster than the offense," James told CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald. "Defensively, you start talking and start communicating and start flying around, you can cover up for a lot of mistakes."

Miami has won 10 of their last 11 games with Wade on the bench. Still, the Heat is a much better team with Wade and James on the court and functioning on all cylinders.

The Heat's ascension into first place has been aided by the Pacers' decline in recent weeks. Miami could have blown right past the Pacers, but the Heat also struggled through a tough March.

Still, if the season ended today, Miami would control home court advantage through the Eastern Conference Finals.

"The standings are what they are," James said. "We want to play the best we can and the fact that we are in first place, I think that's pretty cool but we've got so much work to do. We've got too much work to do. We've got guys that need to get healthy. We haven't even talked about it. "

Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said the number one seed is the "last thing on our mind right now." But this season, Indiana is a completely different animal at home than the team is at Bankers Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Indiana is 33-5 at home this season, which is tied with the L.A. Clippers for fewest home losses this season. But get the Pacers on the road and the team's record drops to 19-18, just one game over .500 on the season.

Overall this season, while Miami has a plus/minus of 3.6 on the road, Indiana has a plus/minus of -1.8 when playing away from home.

If the Pacers and Heat continue on the current path and Miami takes home court advantage, it could be devastating to Indiana. The Pacers have already shown signs of infighting during the current losing stretch and if that continues, more problems loom for Indiana.

Still, there's plenty of basketball yet to play and anything can and will happen between Tuesday and the end of the regular season. Miami has nine games left with six of those games inside the friendly confines of the AmericanAirlines Arena. Two of the games are against the two worst teams in basketball, Philly and Milwaukee, and the toughest game is on April 11 against…the Pacers.

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