Midway through the fourth quarter, the New Orleans Pelicans rattled off 13 unanswered points to cut the Miami Heat lead to 96-91. Suddenly, Miami appeared in danger of suffering an embarrassing loss to an injury-depleted team.
Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside made sure that didn't happen.
Over the final six minutes of the fourth period, Whiteside scored nine points, and Wade added six, to lead the Heat to a 113-99 victory. Miami remained a half-game ahead of Atlanta, Boston and Charlotte for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Wade and Whiteside teamed up for a key three-point play to put the Heat up 99-91 to stop the 13-0 Pelicans run. About four minutes later, Wade drilled a fadeaway jumper to put the Heat up 109-97. After New Orleans came up empty on the other end of the floor, Whiteside made a jumper of his own to ice the game with 1:31 remaining.
Miami relaxed in the second half, letting the Pelicans come back into the game. But it was nice to see the Heat execute for some much-needed baskets in the clutch. Whiteside finished with 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field, 14 rebounds and three blocks. New Orleans even went to a zone for stretches of the third period, and Whiteside was the player who took advantage of the zone's holes for some baskets. (The zone helped New Orleans get back in the game, though; Miami shot just 3-of-19 from beyond the arc.)
The Heat's second unit -- Whiteside, along with Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson -- catalyzed a decisive 19-3 Heat run to close the first quarter that put Miami firmly in control. Whiteside ended the first quarter slamming home a lob from Goran Dragic. Winslow scored all eight of his points in the first half, and his jump shot is looking better and better as the season wears on. Richardson added two electrifying dunks off the bench. In one sequence in the fourth quarter, Whiteside blocked a shot from Luke Babbitt. Luol Deng picked up the ball and threw it ahead to Winslow. Winslow found a streaking Richardson for a fast-break dunk. A thing of beauty.
Wade finished with 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting from the field and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP had two and-ones in the first quarter and never looked back from then. Erik Spoelstra surely would've liked to rest Wade for the final period, but Wade calmed things down for the Heat. He was a +13 on the night, and he's picking his spots in this improved Heat offense.
Dragic added 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Heat. Amar'e Stoudemire added 16 points -- his most in a Heat uniform -- and nine rebounds. Stoudemire scored 10 points in the first quarter, providing the Heat with some inside presence to start the game.
The Heat will try to become the first team to defeat the San Antonio Spurs at home tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m.