Miami Heat rally to edge lowly Philadelphia 76ers

By Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange   |   March 7, 2016 at 1:02 AM

MIAMI -- Earlier Sunday, the Golden State Warriors were shocked by the worst team in the Western Conference.

Then, the Miami Heat, will full knowledge of what can happen if a team is not at its best even against a weak opponent, trailed by six points to start the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers, the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Fortunately for the Heat, point guard Goran Dragic stepped up with 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists as Miami rallied to defeat Philadelphia 103-98 on Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Golden State, the defending NBA champs and already a 55-win team, lost to the Los Angeles Lakers (13-51). That is a 42-win gap between the teams.

After Sunday night in Miami, there is a 29-win gap between the Heat (37-26) and the 76ers (8-55). However, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the 76ers played much better than their record.

"I don't want the narrative to be that we half-stepped through this game and then turned it around at the end," Spoelstra said. "That would be a disservice to Philly.

"We had to earn it. There were certainly things we could have done better, but this was not only a case of us playing down to the competition."

Heat guard Dwyane Wade finished with 23 points, and center Hassan Whiteside added 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks. Forward Luol Deng had 12 points and 14 rebounds.

Sixers coach Brett Brown said the Heat's diverse offense gave his team trouble, especially on the pick-and-roll with Wade on the handle, Whiteside ready for a lob, and shooters spotting up on the perimeter.

"All over the place, you have to pick your poison," Brown said. "If you go too far (in helping on a Wade penetration), you will give up the most feared shot in our sport -- the corner three."

Philadelphia was led by point guard Ish Smith, who had 21 points and five assists. Carl Landry added 18 points, Isaiah Canaan had 17 points, and Hollis Thompson added 16 points.

Smith said his team could not execute down the stretch.

"That's been the story of our year -- not closing out close games," he said.

The Heat has won five straight games, a streak that coincided with the acquisition of small forward Joe Johnson.

"We are undefeated with Joe," Dragic said of Johnson, who had 14 points against the 76ers. "Hopefully, it can stay like that."

Philadelphia lost its 12th straight game in yet another dreadful season. This marks the third straight year the 76ers have lost at least 55 games.

The 76ers are missing five of the 14 players on their roster due to injury or illness: centers Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid and guards Nik Stauskas and Kendall Marshall.

Miami took advantage early, outshooting Philadelphia 61.1 percent to 40.7 percent in the first quarter. Yet, the Heat managed just a 30-25 lead.

Philadelphia battled back to take a 49-47 lead at the half. With three seconds left in the half and the 76ers trailing 47-46, Smith took an inbounds pass at half-court, dribbled behind his back and then moved quickly before nailing a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

Canaan hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the third quarter, tying the score 69-69. And that was where the teams stood as they entering the fourth.

"You look up at the scoreboard at the end of three periods, and it's 69-69, a low number," Brown said. "I'm proud of our defense."

Overall, the Heat shot 44.4 percent from the floor while the 76ers hot 43.5 percent.

NOTES: Heat SG Tyler Johnson (shoulder) said he is optimistic about returning next month. However, he still has pain when he tries to shoot. ... Although many media members believe PF Chris Bosh (blood clots) is out for the season, the Heat has made no such declaration. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday that Bosh is working out with team staff and that he remains in "great spirits." ... Sixers PG Ish Smith, 27, is on his eighth NBA team -- and that does not include that this is his second stop with Philadelphia. However, he may be finding his groove, as he is averaging 21 points in his past four games. ... Entering Sunday, 76ers PG T.J. McConnell led all NBA rookies in steals and assists, and 76ers rookie C Jahlil Okafor ranked fourth among all players in points in the paint.

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