Ahead 20-4 early against a woeful team missing both its leading scorer and top rebounder, the Heat assuredly never anticipated needing to climb out of a second-half hole here Friday night.
Sloppy play left Miami down three midway through the third, but the Heat recovered quickly to repel the 76ers 112-102 at Wells Fargo Center.
So make it four wins in a row for Miami, by margins of 16, 18, 17 and 10, albeit against three doormats (the Knicks, Suns and 76ers) and another team (the Bulls) that has somehow forgotten how to defend.
Dwyane Wade scored a team-high 21, and Miami got an unexpected boost from Gerald Green, who entered on a 4-for-26 swoon but hit five jumpers in the fourth, including two threes, to push the Heat’s lead from three to 16.
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Also helpful: more monster numbers from Hassan Whiteside, who had 19 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks.
Just as impressive: Whiteside hit 7 of 8 free throws, making him 28 for his last 30 at the line.
“I feel comfortable at the line,” Whiteside said. “You know when it’s a rainy day and get hot chocolate, and you put a woobie on you and tuck yourself in? That’s how comfortable I feel at the free-throw line.”
The Sixers had only 10 players available — including one signed 2 1/2 hours before the game — and were missing, among others, leading scorer Jahlil Okafor and leading rebounding Nerlens Noel.
What remained was an obscure and less-than-imposing starting lineup featuring Hollis Thompson, Jerami Grant, Carl Landry, Robert Covington and Ish Smith.
The 76ers bench, aside from former All-Star Elton Brand (playing his first game of the season), featured such luminaries as Richaun Holmes, Isaiah Canaan and TJ McConnell.
Yet Philadelphia clawed back from its early deficit to take a 72-69 lead with 5:20 left in the third, before the Heat closed the quarter on a 15-5 run, spearheaded by five points from Wade and a timely three from Josh Richardson.
Coach Erik Spoelstra said his team became “sloppy” offensively but “our response to that at the end of the third quarter was very good. Look, this is the NBA. Teams are going to make runs.”
Meanwhile, despite 17 turnovers, the Heat continued an offensive renaissance that nobody saw coming.
The Heat’s 40 points in the first, which ended with Miami up 11, were Miami’s most in any quarter this season.
After scoring 100 points in 20 of its first 53 games before the All-Star break, the Heat has now done it seven times in nine games since.
“It’s great everyone is getting an opportunity to be themselves at the same time,” said Wade, who had eight rebounds, four assists and four turnovers. “Especially adding a player like Joe [Johnson], guys coming out of the All-Star break having to play without Chris [Bosh], having to play without me for those first two games really built that confidence in everyone. It’s all coming together.”
What’s more, the Heat is now 7-2 since the All-Star break despite missing Chris Bosh, who remains out with a blood clot in his calf. That surge has put the Heat a season-high 10 games over .500.
In his fourth game for Miami, Johnson shot selectively but efficiently, closing 5 for 7 on a 12-point night, his 26 minutes his fewest since joining the team. Miami has outscored opponents by 56 points in Johnson’s 120 minutes on the court.
Goran Dragic, who has the NBA’s second-best plus/minus since the All-Star break, had 15 points and 11 assists and was a plus 17. “Teammates love how I push the ball,” he said.
Amar’e Stoudemire scored eight points in the first four minutes, helping the Heat to its early lead, before departing briefly with a head laceration after being inadvertently smacked in the head by a Sixers player. He finished with 12 points and four boards.
The decision to use Green was fortuitous, with the veteran guard finishing with 12 points on 5-for-14 accuracy.
“You never know when your name will be called,” Green said. “Just trying to be ready.”
The 76ers, who shot just 37.9 percent, play the Heat on Sunday in Miami.
▪ Richardson, who sustained a hand injury Thursday against Phoenix, played with his left middle finger taped to his index finger and shot 2 for 7.
▪ Danny Granger said on national radio interview Friday that after Lance Stephenson gave LeBron James the choke sign in the Heat-Pacers 2012 playoff series, Udonis Haslem, Juwan Howard and Chris Andersen went to Indiana’s locker-room the next day, on an off-day, to try to confront Stephenson but were turned away.
But Haslem said Friday that simply never happened. And Andersen wasn’t even on the Heat that season.