NBA

Dragic paces Heat to crucial win over Hornets

(TSX / STATS) -- CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The plan wasn't necessarily for the Miami Heat to sink as many 3-pointers as possible Wednesday. Those simply were the shots available against the Charlotte Hornets.

A franchise-record 21 of them.

Miami sank 21 of 40 3-point attempts as the Heat toppled the Hornets 112-99 to remain in the hunt for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Goran Dragic had 33 points on 13-of-21 shooting (5-of-9 from 3-point range), and James Johnson added 26 points while hitting 6 of 9 3-pointers. Hassan Whiteside added 13 points and 20 rebounds.

"We weren't just chucking it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "The majority of them came off coherent execution and guys being aggressive, screening, getting into the paint and making the extra pass. If it was just coming down and jacking, we'd feel a little bit differently about it."

The hot shooting began at the start for the Heat as it knocked in 6-of-9 from long-distance in the first quarter, and didn't cool down. In all, Miami's 21 3-pointers at a 52.5 percent clip bettered a previous franchise high of 19.

"I was just taking what they were giving," Johnson said of his six 3-pointers. "The team was finding me and the basket felt huge today."

With both teams fighting to remain in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the East, the game was close until the Heat seized control in the third quarter. That was when Miami outscored Charlotte 34-22, led by 10 points from Dragic, as the Heat lead grew to as many as 17 points.

Nicolas Batum had 24 points for the Hornets (36-43), who have all but lost hope for the playoffs now that they are 2 1/2 games behind the three teams tied for the final two playoff spots with three games remaining.

"Tonight was six (games) in nine (days) for us," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "I don't make excuses for our guys, but that was not lack of effort. We (were) exhausted."

Meanwhile, the Heat (38-40) are trying to play their way into the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. With four games remaining, they now are tied with Chicago and Indiana for the final two playoff spots.

The game turned chippy with 9:14 remaining in the third quarter when Whiteside -- scoreless and with three fouls at the time -- tussled for a rebound with Hornets center Cody Zeller. In the scramble for the ball, Whiteside appeared to inadvertently elbow Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and then shoved Zeller. Zeller was assessed a personal foul, and Whiteside a technical foul after officials reviewed the sequence.

The incident seemed to awaken Whiteside from his early game slump, however, and he went on to record his 54th double-double of the season, while adding three blocks.

"What do you think?" Whiteside said of whether the technical foul inspired his effort. He added: "Coach told me, 'Whiteside, we're going to need like 20 rebounds from you.' So I said, 'OK. Check.' Somebody ordered 20 rebounds, so I had to deliver."

Whiteside's dominance was the biggest factor in the game, according to Clifford.

"Listen, the other guys scored, (but) he's the difference in the game," he said.

NOTES: Heat F Luke Babbitt missed the game with a strained right hip flexor. ... Charlotte F Marco Belinelli suffered a left index finger strain in the second quarter and did not return. ... Hornets G Kemba Walker became the fourth Charlotte player and first since Glen Rice in 1997-98 to tally 1,800 points in a single season. He now has 1,807 points this season. ... Heat C Hassan Whiteside has 54 double-doubles this season, the most for a single-season in Miami history. ... Miami players have missed 311 games due to injury/illness, the most in the NBA. ... Former Hornets assistant coach Patrick Ewing held his introductory press conference as the new head coach of Georgetown, and Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said he's confident his former right-hand man will be successful after 13 years as an assistant in the NBA. "He has a special feeling for that school," Clifford said of Ewing's alma mater. "This is like him going home. He loves that school, he would never go back to college, I don't think, if it wasn't for Georgetown."

Updated April 5, 2017


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