The Heat waited nearly a month before it got Hassan Whiteside back in the lineup Tuesday night.
Miami’s $98 million center played 17 minutes and 42 seconds and had seven points, eight rebounds and a really good seat on the bench in the fourth quarter as his teammates rallied past the Orlando Magic 107-89 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Used to surviving without Whiteside and several other key starters for some time now, the Heat (18-16) got 20 points from Josh Richardson, 18 from Wayne Ellignton and 17 from Tyler Johnson to end a four-game losing streak to slumping Orlando (11-24).
Richardson, Ellington, Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Jordan Mickey and rookie Bam Adebayo were the six players coach Erik Spoelstra rotated on the floor for the first 10-plus minutes of the fourth quarter as the Heat took control of a game that was tied at 68 after three quarters. Richardson scored 14 of his points in the fourth quarter and Ellington made four of his six threes in the final period.
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Whiteside, playing for the first time since Nov. 28 (a stretch of 13 games missed because of a bone bruise in his left knee), exited with 5:08 left in the third quarter and the Heat trailing 59-55. Point guard Goran Dragic, dealing with a strained ligament in his shooting elbow, had 14 points, four rebounds and six assists in 30 minutes, sat alongside Whiteside in the fourth quarter.
Orlando came in having lost eight consecutive games and 19 of their previous 22 after an 8-4 start. The Magic were also minus three starters – Terrence Ross, Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon – because of injury.
Evan Fournier, playing in his first game since Dec. 6, scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half. Elfrid Payton had 19 ppints, eight rebounds and six assists in 34 minutes to lead Orlando, which shot 40.7 percent from the field.
Miami led 21-12 after an Adebayo dunk with 1:57 left in the opening quarter, but the Magic quickly turned the tables behind a 20-2 run eventually stretching their first half lead to as many as 11 points thanks to nine Heat turnovers over the first two quarters. Miami finished with 17 turnovers, which led to 19 points.
Dragic missed his first six shots before sinking his seventh right before the half to trim Orlando's lead to 49-43 at the break.
Orlando was up 57-47 with 8:10 left in the third before the Heat went on a 19-4 run to take a 66-61 lead on a Dragic pullup jumper with 2:20 to go. The basket put the sellout crowd into a frenzy, arguably the loudest it has been all season.
Then, Johnson, Richardson, Ellington and the rest of the Heat’s supporting cast took over in the fourth quarter.