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Waiters, Dragic lift Heat over Hornets

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The Heat backcourt combined for 46 points in a game with playoff-level intensity.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat went into the fourth quarter against the Charlotte Hornets trailing 86-81. Kemba Walker had eviscerated the Miami defense up to that point, and this game had significant implications for a team still out of the playoff picture.

Dion Waiters ensured the Heat came away with a win.

The mercurial shooting guard knocked down three 3-pointers in the last 4:14 in a game with a playoff-like atmosphere and helped the Heat walk away with a 108-101 victory over the Hornets. Thanks to a Chicago Bulls loss Wednesday night, Miami moved to within a half-game of the Bulls for the eighth seed.

Waiters’ last 3 put the Heat up 105-98 with 45 seconds left to go. That bucket came because Miami grabbed two offensive rebounds in one possession, allowing the Heat to run the clock in a tight game. Even when Miami made a crucial mishap — a bad pass from Tyler Johnson gave Walker a breakaway opportunity with 20 seconds left, with a chance to cut Miami’s lead to two — the clock and some luck (Walker missed the layup) enabled Miami to win.

The Heat’s clutch shooting guard finished with 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field, including five 3s, and five assists. His backcourt mate, Goran Dragic, wasn’t too shabby either. Dragic had 22 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and a perfect 9-of-9 from the foul line, 10 assists and six rebounds. The two of them are playing in complete sync. Just look at these two plays from the second quarter.

Beyond “7/11”, James Johnson was a huge part of the Heat’s win tonight. Johnson started the fourth quarter with back-to-back 3s to trim the deficit. In a huge sequence midway through the fourth, Johnson blocked Cody Zeller at the rim, igniting a Heat fast-break. Tyler Johnson had an open 3 on the other end of the floor, giving Miami a 96-89 lead. The player ESPN’s Zach Lowe labeled as a co-captain for this year’s Luke Walton All Stars finished with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field, six rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

As a team, the Heat connected on 17 3-pointers. Luke Babbitt made four of them. Wayne Ellington made two. Tyler Johnson made two. That efficient long-distance shooting helped Miami keep pace and eventually pull away from a competitive team like the Charlotte Hornets.

The Heat’s two centers also chipped in. Willie Reed played phenomenal basketball in the fourth quarter, scoring seven points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field, including back-to-back buckets to break an 89-89 tie and give the Heat a lead they would not relinquish.

And although the Hornets limited Hassan Whiteside to just two field goal attempts in the first half, the Heat center stuck with it and had six points in the third quarter to keep the Heat in the game. Whiteside’s last field goal of the third was a nice hook shot with 45 seconds left to salvage a Heat possession that was going nowhere. He finished with a double-double, 10 points and 15 rebounds, and added four blocks.

The Heat will host the Toronto Raptors Saturday at 8 p.m.