Nobody with the Miami Heat is denying they’re scoreboard watching these days.
With three weeks left in the regular season and the race for third place in the Eastern Conference a four team battle, coach Erik Spoelstra said it’s only human for the Heat to see what Boston, Atlanta and Charlotte are doing. But nowhere at the Heat’s headquarters, Spoelstra said, is there a printed or posted copy of the standings around for players to peruse.
“There’s this thing called the internet,” Spoelstra said. “We don't put up the standings and say we need to get here and look at this team and what they did. We have to focus on what we're doing. I know that probably everybody is saying that. But you can't expect anyone to help you. You need to take matters into your own hands."
It took them a half to get going, but the Heat got what it wanted Friday night against the short-handed Magic, rallying for a 108-97 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
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Hassan Whiteside had 26 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in 28 minutes off the bench and Goran Dragic added 22 points, eight assists and his first dunk in a Heat uniform to lead the way for Miami, which improved to 13-6 since the All-Star break.
With the win, the Heat (42-30) picked up a game on the Hornets, who lost in Detroit Friday to fall to 41-31. But Miami gained no ground overall in the standings.
The Heat remains a half-game behind Atlanta (43-30), which beat the Bucks at home Friday to remain in third place in the East. The Celtics, meanwhile, remain fourth in the East because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Heat.
Friday, Miami made its comeback in the third quarter, outscoring Orlando 31-12 in the period. But the rally really started when the players took over the conversation in the halftime locker room and worked out their defensive issues in the first half.
“It was just communicating,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 11 points on 2-of-9 shooting. “Everyone has to be mature enough to take criticism coming their way or if there is a way to do it better. We all have to be open to that, especially this time of year where it is about nothing but finding a way to win ball games. Everyone was receptive to it and went out there and had a great third quarter.
Amar’e Stoudemire got things rolling offensive early in the third quarter. Miami’s starting center scored seven of his 13 points to get the Heat the lead before rookie Josh Richardson came off the bench and starting hitting three-pointers to create some separation from Orlando.
After Magic point guard Elfrid Payton hit a nine-foot jumper in the lane to trim Miami’s lead to 73-69, Spoelstra called time out with 4:08 left in the quarter. The Heat then closed the quarter on a 12-0 run to take a commanding lead.
Richardson started it with a long three-pointer and then capped the first nine points of the Heat’s run when he stepped past two Magic defenders who came to defend him on the three-point line and zipped a pass to Whiteside under the basket for a dunk.
Richardson finished with 14 points and made three of his five three-pointer attempts. Five Heat players finished in double-figures including Luol Deng, who finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds after he missed Wednesday’s loss in San Antonio with a sore left quad.
"It's what great teams have and we're getting to that level," Deng said of the Heat's improving communication. "Someone misses a coverage or someone is not playing hard, it's not personal. You're still a good person. But at the end of the day for us to win we have to hold each other accountable. I think we're getting to that level now as a team where if we lose games we lose the right way and just leave it all out there."
The Magic, 6-14 since the All-Star break and losers of six in a row, led the Heat 57-54 at the half despite being without leading scorers Nicola Vucevic (groin) and Victor Oladipo (wrist).
Despite being down, the first half felt like a dunking clinic by the Heat. Whiteside had six slams in including four alley-oop dunks on a pair of dishes by Deng and Dragic.
“Luol and Goran threw some really great lobs,” Whiteside said. “It's not just D-Wade anymore. Sometimes I don't know where it's going to come from."”
Still, Whiteside said, the two biggest slams in the first half were by the Heat’s smaller guys.
Dragic, whose teammates have been teasing him all season about the fact he hadn’t dunked yet this season, threw one down with both hands on a fast-break with 10:32 to go in the half. His teammates immediately erupted off the bench in both a bit of laughter and celebration.
"Now I'm 1 of 2 [on dunks], 50 percent from the field,” said Dragic, who in last Saturday’s blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Dragic tried to dunk on a break in the fourth quarter but settled for a layup.
“I'm done dunking."
If Dragic’s slam brought about laughter from the Heat bench, Richardson’s with 3:02 left in the half fired Miami up.
The rookie second round pick, who has managed to make SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays a couple times in the last few weeks with ferocious slams, drove the lane and threw down a nasty one-handed jam over C.J. Watson and drew the foul. But after Richardson made the ensuing free throw to give the Heat a 52-48 lead, the Magic closed the half on a 9-2 run.
“My dunk was OK,” Richardson said. “[Goran’s dunk] was one of the best moments of the year. I was turnt up.”
▪ The start time for the Heat’s April 5th game against Detroit has been moved from 7:30 to 8 p.m. and will be televised nationally on TNT.