The Miami Heat came into Wednesday night’s game against the Charlotte Hornets in ninth place, having lost their previous two games and four of their last six. Moreover, Charlotte stood just a game-and-a-half behind Miami and were essentially fighting for their playoff hopes Wednesday.
And oh yeah, the Heat only had 10 players available, with Luke Babbitt’s strained right hip flexor sidelining him.
Miami came into Charlotte and hit a franchise-record 21 3-pointers en route to a gargantuan 112-99 victory over the Hornets to move into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Heat have not played well recently, but put together one of their most complete games against Charlotte.
Miami imposed their will on the 36-43 Hornets with a 14-0 third-quarter run that blew the game open. Hassan Whiteside, who had slogged through a scoreless, foul-plagued first half, picked up a technical foul during a brief skirmish. He then scored on three of the Heat’s four next possessions.
That represented an important stretch for the Heat — Miami nailed 11 3s in the first half, but didn’t get anything going in the paint. Getting Whiteside some high-percentage shots in the paint ensured the Heat didn’t have to keep hitting 3s at a franchise-setting pace to win this game.
Whiteside finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, 20 rebounds and three blocks. But Goran Dragic and James Johnson led the way for the Heat in this important victory.
Dragic scored 19 of his 33 points in the first half, going 13-for-22 from the field, including 5-of-9 from downtown. He played one of his best games of the season Wednesday night, and the Heat needed him to deliver to avoid a late-season collapse after a remarkable season turnaround in January. Dragic had the better of Kemba Walker, who had his way with Dragic and the Heat for much of these two teams’ first-round playoff matchup last year. Walker shot just 6-of-17 from the field Wednesday night.
No passing necessary during this possession. pic.twitter.com/atH87wREMy— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) April 5, 2017
In a bit of a surprise move, Erik Spoelstra started James Johnson in place of Babbitt — the first start for the Heat’s sixth man this year. I would’ve understood Johnson continuing to come off the bench — his ball-handling ability is invaluable when Dragic goes to the bench — but I also am in favor of playing your best players as much as possible in big games.
And the 30-year-old forward put together one of his best games of the season. He hit six of seven attempts from 3-point range (again, six of seven from deep), and finished with 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting overall. After Charlotte cut Miami’s lead to 11 with five minutes left, Johnson hit a 3 and then a mid-range jumper on consecutive possessions to keep the Hornets at bay. It’s also better to have Johnson switch on to a taller player like Cody Zeller or Frank Kaminsky than have Babbitt try to do it.
The rest of the team made timely contributions. Josh Richardson made four 3s, but also drove to the basket for layups or trips to the foul line. The Heat’s second-year shooting guard had 19 points, six rebounds and five assists on the night. Richardson used his lengthy arms to defend Nic Batum after the French small forward proved himself to be too tall for the 6-foot-4 Rodney McGruder.
Additionally, Spoelstra made a smart move, moving away from his usual rotation in the fourth quarter. After Whiteside asked for a break, Spoelstra opted to go small, with Okaro White and James Johnson up front instead of Willie Reed, who struggled through an 0-for-3 shooting night and was a -11 in his 14 minutes. The move kept the Heat’s floor spacing intact and bought Whiteside some rest without giving up the lead.
The Heat will visit the Toronto Raptors Friday at 7:30 p.m.