The Miami Heat boarded its flight to Indianapolis late Saturday night with an impressive 104-89 home victory in hand over the Toronto Raptors and a starting point guard who looked like he took a right hook from Rocky Balboa.
Although he could barely see out of his swollen right eye after taking an elbow to his eye socket early in the third quarter from Raptors guard Cory Joseph, Goran Dragic said after the game he intends to play when Miami (32-34) — winners of 21 of its past 25 games but still a half-game behind Milwaukee (32-33) for the final playoff spot in the East — faces the Pacers (33-32) on short rest in a pivotal showdown Sunday night.
“The plan right now is to travel him,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ll see; we’ll be smart about it.”
Said Dragic: “It’s painful, but it’s fine. I’m not dizzy. I can see. It’s still blurry, but it’s [only] a hit. I’ll be OK.”
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With Saturday’s blowout win at home, the Heat moved past the Chicago Bulls (31-34) in the playoff race but couldn’t move into eighth place because the Bucks won their sixth consecutive game at home against Minnesota.
Sunday’s game in Indiana, which will start at 6 p.m., less than 18 hours after the Heat finished off the Raptors, could prove crucial for the Heat, which has been trying to chase down the Bulls, Pistons and Pacers for the final three playoff spots in the East for weeks. But the Bucks, who play their next six games on the road against Western Conference teams, have been red-hot.
Ultimately, though, the Heat has its eyes set on something bigger than simply making the playoffs, Dion Waiters said.
“We’re not just going for eighth,” said Waiters, who led Miami with 20 points on Saturday and added five assists. “We’ve got bigger expectations than that. So people saying we’re one game out of eighth, that’s not really our goal. We know what we’ve got to do. We just got to take care of business, keep getting better. We’ll see when everything unfolds [where we stand].”
Miami came blazing out of the gates on Saturday night, making its first seven shots and jumping out to an 18-8 lead.
The confidence only grew from there.
With less than two minutes to play in the first half, James Johnson was already holding up three fingers as he stood at the scorer’s table before Waiters had pulled up to drain the Heat’s eighth three-pointer of the half.
Miami led 59-41 at the half, and the lead grew to 25 in the second half — even after Joseph elbowed Dragic with 11:19 left in the third quarter.
Tyler Johnson came off the bench and filled in for Dragic at the point along with Waiters, James Johnson and Josh Richardson. Tyler Johnson, who took a hard fall on his left elbow late in the game, finished with 16 points and was one of six players to finish in double figures for Miami.
“Luckily, I didn’t land directly on my elbow,” said Johnson, who stayed on the court for several moments, agonizing in pain before getting up and shaking it off. “I landed a little bit down [on the elbow]. It stings, but it’s nothing that’s going to deprive me of playing. [It hurt] until the ball hit my hands and I had to go up for a layup. I was 100 percent again.”
The Raptors (38-28) went on a 12-0 run midway through the fourth quarter with their backups on the floor and trimmed the Heat’s lead to 92-81 before Spoelstra put Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Rodney McGruder and James Johnson back into the game to finish things off.
Whiteside had 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks for the Heat, which had 10 blocks as a team and was 11 of 28 from three-point range (39.3 percent). Whiteside finished a team-best plus-18.
“You could see it from the beginning, Hassan really committed to jumping, protecting the rim, making multiple efforts in the paint,” Spoelstra said. “He is so unique when he’s that active. [There are] not many guys like him in this league.”
DeMar DeRozan had 17 points to lead Toronto, which is playing without injured All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. DeRozan and the rest of the Raptors starters sat for the entire fourth quarter.
Seven technical fouls were called in the game, including five on the Raptors, who were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after losing in Atlanta. Toronto’s Patrick Patterson was ejected with 9:55 to play in the fourth quarter when he was hit with two technical fouls.
“I think we’re just playing at a high level,” Waiters said. “It starts with defense. That’s what happens sometimes — you get frustrated. I think we just played Miami Heat basketball. We were focused on the right things. That’s all we cared about — getting the win.”