MIAMI (AP) By the time Dwyane Wade left the court Wednesday night, by the time Erik Spoelstra finished his postgame remarks, the Miami HEAT turned their collective thoughts in two directions.
Away from the Clippers.
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And on to the Bulls.
Wade had 27 points and eight assists, Jermaine O’Neal finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, and the HEAT extended their longest home winning streak of the season to four games by beating Los Angeles 108-97 – meaning they’ll be no worse than tied with Chicago for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot when the Bulls visit on Friday.
The HEAT (33-32) moved a game ahead of Chicago in the chase for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, though the Bulls also have 32 losses and two games in hand. Miami is 0.00024 percentage points behind Charlotte, which won in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
“We’ve had a better sense of urgency now in the last couple weeks and we’ve been able to sustain it,” Spoelstra said. “But we can’t get ahead of ourselves and start to think about all these games in the future. We’ve got a big one on Friday.”
Michael Beasley scored 15 points before leaving with a thigh bruise late in the third quarter, and Mario Chalmers chipped in with 12 points for Miami.
Former HEAT forward Rasual Butler scored 31 points, two off his career best, for the Clippers, who lost their fifth straight. Chris Kaman scored 16, Steve Blake added 12 and Baron Davis scored 10 for the Clippers, now 2-20 on the road since Dec. 19.
“We have to get better every day,” Clippers coach Kim Hughes said. “We have to work and try to find that chemistry. There are no excuses for not continuing to finish it out. The season is not done and every game is a learning process.”
Wade made 15-of-17 free throws and added six rebounds for Miami. He sat out the fourth quarter, and Los Angeles got within 106-97 on a 3-pointer by Davis with 1:16 left, but the lead was never in serious doubt.
Butler didn’t score in the game’s final 16:50.
“I made up my mind that I was going to come out and be aggressive,” Butler said. “When normally I’m aggressive, we’re in ballgames.”
Miami has pointed to this six-game homestand, which began Wednesday, as a chance to get rolling – with good reason.
Of Miami’s 17 remaining games, only five are against teams currently over .500 – and the last eight all will likely pit the HEAT against lottery-bound teams.
The Clippers remain alive in the playoff race only mathematically (they started Wednesday 12 games out with 18 remaining). But still, it took the HEAT nearly three full quarters to put away this one.
And Butler was the reason for that.
He scored 14 points in the first quarter, looking comfortable as ever on his former home floor, and the HEATdidn’t offer much in the way of resistance.
“Rasual was in a terrific groove,” Spoelstra said.
In the third quarter, Butler made his first five shots, including a trio of 3-pointers. The last of which came with 4:50 left, getting the Clippers within 75-70.
It could have sent the HEAT harkening back to Tuesday night, when they wasted a big second-half lead in Charlotte.
“We’ve got to move forward,” Wade said. “We’re in this playoff race. You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. So we came back today versus a good offensive team in the Clippers and fought.”
Fight they did.
A 15-2 run closed the third quarter, turning a tenuous lead into a 90-72 cushion entering the fourth. Wade had seven points during the burst, plus used his eighth assist to set up a 3-pointer by Chalmers with 11.7 ticks remaining, and the HEAT weren’t in danger again.
With that, on to Chicago.
“Important game for us, like it’s an important game for them,” Wade said. “We’ll both be looking forward to it.”
NOTES: Butler’s teams have gone 1-5 when he scores at least 30 points. The one win? It came when he was with the Hornets – and naturally, against the Clippers, back on March 21, 2006. … For the record, not everyone complains about foul calls. After getting whistled with 6:16 left in the third for an illegal screen, Beasley nodded knowingly, then said “good call” to referee Greg Willard. … Davis had a 60-foot alley-oop assist to DeAndre Jordan for a dunk in the first quarter.