The Miami Heat returned centre Hassan Whiteside to the starting line-up for the first time since January 20, and the move paid off in a 118-96 win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Whiteside played 29 consecutive games as a reserve. But with the playoffs about a week away, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made the move, and Whiteside responded with 18 points and 15 rebounds.
“We need a higher level from Hassan,” Spoelstra said. “This team needs him to play at his best level, his most aggressive level, his most consistent level, his most reliable level, his most dominant, physical level – all of those things.
“I felt the time was now, and he responded in the right way.”
So did the Heat, who turned in their highest-scoring game since March 19, a 122-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Miami also got double-figure scoring from Luol Deng (20 points), Goran Dragic (19), Dwyane Wade (17) and Gerald Green (15). However, rookie small forward Justise Winslow suffered an injury to his left ankle in the third quarter.
“Justise will travel with us, but he’s day to day,” Spoelstra said. “He iced it and was walking around, but there is no way to tell.”
With Winslow out for however long, that could mean more chances for another Heat rookie, guard Josh Richardson, who shot .589 on 3-pointers in March, the second-best month for any player in NBA history (minimum 50 attempts). Richardson had seven points off the bench on Sunday, making 1-for-3 on 3-pointers.
But even without Winslow, the Heat had enough firepower to subdue the Magic, who were led by Evan Fournier (team-high 21 points).
“We were off from the beginning of the game,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “There were stretches when it seemed like Miami was scoring every time down – busted coverages, ball-watching.”
The Heat (47-33) are 10-2 in their past 12 home games but now must go on the road to complete their regular season, at the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday and at the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.
Miami is tied with the Celtics for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The teams are battling to be one of four teams in the East who will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Magic (34-46) are out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season, the first time that has happened since Orlando’s first four years in the league (1990-93).
Orlando, which has lost 15 of its past 17 games in its series against Miami, was competitive early.
Miami shot 75 percent in the first quarter, including 2-of-4 on 3-pointers but still managed just a 31-28 lead. Dragic had 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting, but Miami’s defense allowed Orlando to shoot 50 percent.
There were five lead changes in the first quarter but none in the second as Miami took control, leading by as many as 11 points. Miami forced seven Orlando turnovers in the second quarter and held the Magic to 44.4 percent shooting, taking a 56-49 lead into halftime.
“We were fortunate to be down only seven points at halftime,” Skiles said. “We had trouble getting back and matching up.”
Whiteside scored 12 points in the third quarter as the Heat broke the game open, taking an 89-69 lead into the fourth. Orlando offered little resistance after that.
“I felt good,” said Whiteside, who revealed that Spoelstra told him about three hours before the game he would be starting. ”