The Heat needed this victory perhaps more than any other this season.
With center Hassan Whiteside serving a suspension, Heat big men Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem delivered signature efforts, Dwyane Wade dominated and the Heat defeated the Brooklyn Nets 104-98. More importantly, the Heat moved back into the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot after the Charlotte Hornets lost to the Sacramento Kings.
With the playoff race in full swing, each of the Heat’s remaining 18 games might have the feel that buzzed through AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday. There was a sense that it was the most important game of the season and the home team could ill afford a loss if it hoped to move on to the postseason.
Feeding off of that intensity, Andersen and Haslem were spectacular despite both playing with various pains and injures. Andersen tied a career high for points with 18 and added a season-high 14 rebounds. Haslem had a season high in rebounds with nine in 19 minutes, and also had seven points.
“Birdman played great,” said Wade, correcting a reporter who referred to Andersen by his surname and not his preferred nickname.
Before Wade could answer the question further, Andersen screamed “Birdzilla!” from the other side of the locker room before limping off to the showers.
It’s that type of enjoyable team chemistry the two teammates showed on the court from the very beginning of the game — Wade with the lob passes and Andersen with the monstrous alley-oop dunks. Andersen was a game-time decision with a leg contusion. He then twisted his ankle in the second half.
“When guys are banged up as much as him, some days you feel OK and some days you don’t and today he had a little extra pep in his step and he gave us a lot,” Wade said. “Him and Udonis did a lot.”
With Whiteside out, it was the Heat’s 27th different lineup of the season, but coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t know who exactly was going to start until less than an hour before tipoff. Trainers didn’t clear Andersen until the last possible moment.
“We didn’t know, literally, until about 40 on the clock,” Spoelstra said. “Finally I asked them [the trainers], ‘Hey, I have to know.’ He was pretty banged up the last two days. It shows how tough he is.”
Morale was low after the Heat (29-25) lost to the Celtics on Monday and Whiteside was ejected for the second time in a week, but all that angst seemed to melt away in the first quarter with smooth passes from Wade that triggered what seemed like effortless ball movement from everyone else. The Heat scored 34 points in the first quarter ‒ its second-most in a first quarter this season.
“They’re playing through pain for each other,” Spoelstra said. “They’re doing whatever they can to get themselves out on the court and they’re not doing it for themselves, they’re doing it for everyone else out on that court.”
The Heat now heads to Toronto a half-game ahead of the Charlotte Hornets for the final playoff spot. The Hornets lost to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.
The Heat led by 18 points in the first half, but the Nets, a team that looks like it wants the season to be over made it somewhat interesting in the second half. Back-to-back offensive rebounds by Henry Walker and Wade kept an important possession alive four minutes into the fourth quarter, and Wade made the hustle plays count with a turnaround bank shot to give the Heat an 88-76 lead.
A three-pointer by Walker then put the Heat back ahead by 13 points with 6:29 left. Wade took over once again in the game’s final minutes to seal the victory.
Goran Dragic had 17 points and Luol Deng contributed 10. The Heat had 23 assists and just 11 turnovers. Miami had just two turnovers in the first half, a season-low.