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Miami Heat hold on to defeat New Orleans Pelicans

By Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange

NEW ORLEANS -- In winning 12 of 17 games since the All-Star break, the Miami Heat have made a practice of keeping their composure in games against weaker opponents.

They did it again on Tuesday night, blowing most of a 22-point, second-half lead but finishing with a 17-6 run in the final 5 1/2 minutes -- with nine points coming from reserve center Hassan Whiteside -- to beat the short-handed New Orleans Pelicans 113-99 at the Smoothie King Center.

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Dwyane Wade led the Heat with a game-high 25 points, but it was Whiteside who pounded the Pelicans (26-44) inside, scoring 24 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking three shots. Whiteside made 10 of 11 field-goal attempts.

"He's developed his overall game," said Wade, who had to return to the game with 7:13 left when New Orleans cut the Miami lead deficit to 11 points and, eventually, to 96-91. "We love to put him in pick-and-rolls. He's developed that pick-and-pop a little bit. There are other times when he ducks in and we're able to get him the ball in his sweet spot on the post. He was the biggest guy out there."

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The Pelicans were so shorthanded -- playing without forwards Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson and guards Eric Gordon and Norris Cole -- that they decided to switch to a zone in the fourth quarter. The strategy helped them close an 86-73 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to 96-91 with 6:13 left.

Alonzo Gee capped the Pelicans' 13-point surge by slamming home a dunk and making a free throw. But Hassan scored nine of Miami's final 17 points, starting with a layup off a feed from Wade and a foul shot. Whiteside followed up by hitting a short jumper in the lane, a pair of free throws and a 16-foot jumper.

"They went to a zone and we had to adjust," Whiteside said. "I got a couple of touch shots in there and I was really hurting them on the rebounding. It's really hard to rebound in a zone, and they had to switch back to man to man."

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Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said Whiteside make a "handful" of great defensive plays down the stretch, indicating how much he has improved over the last three seasons.

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"You saw him challenging in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter basically everything at the rim," Spoelstra said. "You can't just play the rim, and he's taken steps forward with that."

The Heat shot 50 percent from the field after having shot 54.8 percent in a 122-101 victory over Cleveland on Saturday. Amare Stoudemire also had 16 points for the Heat.

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The Pelicans were led by Jrue Holiday with 24 points and Luke Babbitt with 23.

The Heat also played excellent defense on the perimeter, holding the Pelicans starting backcourt of Holiday and Toney Douglas to 11 of 39 shooting. The Pelicans shot just 39 percent overall.

"I don't know if we ran out of gas," said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry. "We were playing against a really great basketball team, and you know they've got a rim protector. When they needed to close out the game, they gave the ball to Dwyane Wade."

Babbitt said he and Holiday tried to create offense for the Pelicans in the absence of so many injured teammates.

"All of us who were out there had to be aggressive," Babbitt said. We have to just play hard, try to be aggressive and try to get wins."

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NOTES: Pelicans F Ryan Anderson sat out his second consecutive game with a double groin injury, and coach Alvin Gentry refused to rule out whether one of the NBA's top bench scorers (17.0 points per game) would miss the rest of the season. "We don't know yet," Gentry said. "That's the thing we're still trying to figure out. The doctors are trying to determine exactly how long that will be." ... Gentry said the Heat are playing great basketball: "As a matter of fact, they're one of the best teams since the All-Star break." Entering Tuesday night's game, the Heat were 11-5 since the break. ... The Heat averaged 113.4 points in their previous 10 games. "I like the energy, I like the engine," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I like how our guys are bringing energy off the ball. We say it all the time -- the ball will find energy."

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