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Heat rally past Hawks 101-98, clinch playoff seed

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Miami overcame an eight-point deficit in the final three minutes.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With three minutes left, it seemed like the Miami Heat would blow another opportunity to clinch a playoff seed after their overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. The Heat were down eight points, having played lackadaisical defense against the bottom-dwelling Atlanta Hawks and missed several open 3-pointers.

But James Johnson made two driving layups, cutting the deficit to four points. About a minute later, Tyler Johson made a 3 to cut it to one. And then on Miami’s ensuing possession, Hassan Whiteside — who received a fine from the Heat Sunday after complaining about his playing time — tipped in a missed Josh Richardson shot. Suddenly, Miami had the lead.

Atlanta had two chances to win or tie in the final 21 seconds of action. Richardson blocked both of those shot attempts, and the Heat won their 42nd game of the season. With the 101-98 win, Miami clinched a playoff seed and a winning record.

Whiteside typically doesn’t play crunch-time minutes, but Kelly Olynyk shot 0-for-4 from downtown and was a -19 in his 20 minutes of action. (Bam Adebayo remains out of the rotation.) Olynyk’s lack of shooting was especially damaging for a Heat team that appeared flummoxed against an Atlanta zone defense in the fourth quarter.

Miami’s starting center, by contrast, was a +20 in his 27 minutes. Whiteside finished with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, 12 rebounds and three blocks. He had a few cringe-worthy moments — including three missed short jumpers that he should make with regularity by now — but Whiteside offered some needed productivity on a night in which other players only showed up intermittently. The Heat built eight-point leads in the second and third quarters, and both times Miami exhaled expecting an easy win.

Erik Spoelstra didn’t just substitute Whiteside for Olynyk in the fourth quarter. With a little under four minutes left, Spoelstra subbed in Tyler Johnson for Dwyane Wade. Wade was a -14 in his 24 minutes, while Johnson was a +17.

Wade had some nice moments, including his 5,000th assist as a Heat player and a tomahawk fourth-quarter slam, but missed all four of his attempts from downtown. It was painful to watch the Heat try (and fail) to attack a zone defense featuring Wade and Justise Winslow, two non-shooters. Tuesday night, Spoelstra made the right call to bring in Johnson, who made a clutch 3-pointer. Johnson scored 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting.

Goran Dragic led the Heat with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-4 from downtown — huge on a night Miami made just 8 of their 33 attempts from beyond the arc. Dragic also had 10 rebounds and three steals, but had an airball on an open floater midway through the fourth quarter. Mostly, though, Dragic played well and made plays like this nifty pass to James Johnson to help Miami get this win.

The Heat will visit the Atlanta Hawks tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.