CHARLOTTE, N.C. — LeBron James stripped the ball at midcourt, raced the length of the floor and lifted off for a powerful one-handed dunk.
Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, seated on the Charlotte bench, could only look on helplessly.
James was taking over and the Miami Heat, well, they were starting to look like the Miami Heat of the past two seasons. Unlike the first two games of the series, James made sure this game wouldn’t be close.
James had 30 points and 10 rebounds, and the Heat easily defeated the Bobcats 98-85 Saturday night to take a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference first round. Dwyane Wade added 17 points for the Heat, who can close out the best-of-seven series Monday night.
“We were locked in on what needs to be done and our keys to win this game,” James said.
James went 10 of 18 from the field and pushed his record to 18-0 against the Bobcats since joining the Heat in 2010. Miami has won 19 straight overall against Charlotte.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his players took a “professional approach” following a 101-97 win Game 2 that came down the wire, dedicating themselves to fixing their mistakes rather than being satisfied with the win.
Now he said the challenge is closing out the Bobcats.
“You don’t want a series to go longer than it needs to,” Spoelstra said.
Al Jefferson finished with 20 points — 15 in the first quarter — for the Bobcats, who are still searching for the first postseason win in franchise history.
After trailing most of the first half, the Heat took control in the final four minutes of the second quarter.
Mario Chalmers gave Miami a 42-40 lead on a 3-pointer, Norris Cole hit a 5-foot bank shot and then another 3 from the left wing helping the Heat close the half on a 16-4 run.
Miami made 8 of their first 11 3-pointers.
The half, which had started with so much energy and promise for the Bobcats, ended with a colossal mistake by guard Gerald Henderson. With the clock winding down, he turned the ball over in the backcourt with 2 seconds left and then fouled James while the Miami forward was attempting a 3-pointer. James made the Bobcats pay by sinking three free throws with 0.2 left on the clock to give the Heat a 58-46 advantage at the break.
“We butchered the last three-and-a-half minutes of the first half,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said.
Said James: “I put it on my shoulders tonight to close out the quarter the right way. And I think that resulted in the way we started the third quarter.”
The second half was all Miami.
James, who was booed loudly almost every time he touched the ball, hit a key 3-pointer and had the breakaway dunk off a steal from Josh McRoberts in the third quarter to help push the lead to 26 midway through the third.
The Bobcats never mounted a series challenge after that point.
James has never lost a first-round series with his teams in Cleveland and Miami going a combined 8-0.
There was some intrigue entering the game.
James was outspoken on Friday after taking an elbow to the throat from McRoberts in Game 2, although no flagrant foul was called on the floor.
The two made contact early in the first quarter when James drove baseline and McRoberts attempted to take a charge, but officials called a blocking foul. James made the shot but missed the ensuing free throw. McRoberts walked away after the foul clapping his hands, refusing to get upset by a call that could have easily gone the other way.
Slowing down Jefferson was crucial for the Heat.
He hit 7 of 9 shots to start the game helped Charlotte take a 27-23 lead after the first quarter. By the middle of the second quarter, Bobcats fans, wearing all white, began chanting “M-V-P M-V-P” as Jefferson shot free throws.
But Charlotte’s enthusiasm was short-lived as James and the Heat began flexing its muscles. Jefferson was held to just five points in the final three quarters in large part due to Chris Bosh.
“They just got up in the passing lanes and made it hard for us to get Al the ball,” Clifford said. “You’ve got to give them credit. Their defense was terrific.”
The Heat also turned up the pressure on point guard Kemba Walker, trapping him out near half court. The Heat forced 14 turnovers.
NOTES: The soldout crowd of 19,633 was the largest ever to see a Bobcats game at Time Warner Cable Arena. … Bobcats owner Michael Jordan took in the game from the end of the bench. … James has scored at least 20 points in all three playoff games … The Heat are 19-7 in the playoffs over the past two seasons