Dwyane Wade scored 27 points and handed out 10 assists on Friday as the Miami Heat secured a National Basketball playoff berth with a 97-92 victory over Charlotte.
The Heat’s latest playoff run follows their dismal 15-win campaign last season, making them just the second team after the 1968-1969 San Diego Rockets to reach the playoffs after going 15-67 the season before.
“This is a big step for the franchise, to get back and matter again after a frustrating season last year,” said first-year Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who took over after Pat Riley resigned to concentrate on his role as team president. “We don’t want to stop with this, obviously. It is significant. It doesn’t happen often.”
The Heat had to rally to do it, erasing an early 15-point deficit to avoid a third straight defeat.
Wade drained three free throws in the final 19 seconds and the Bobcats’ Raymond Felton missed a potential game-tying three-pointer with five seconds to play.
After injuries to Wade, Alonzo Mourning and Udonis Haslem doomed Miami last season, the Heat have been relatively healthy.
“It’s the first time in a long time someone has come from where we came from to get to where we’re at this year,” Haslem said. “It just says a lot about the guys here last year who came back with a chip on their shoulder.”
But the victory didn’t come without a price. Haslem slashed his thumb late in the third quarter attempting to block a shot and needed six stitches. He could miss the last six games of the regular season.
Michael Beasley and center Jermaine O’Neal both left the game with twisted ankles but returned.
MAGIC 116, CAVALIERS 87
At Orlando, Dwight Howard had 20 points and 11 rebounds as Orlando shocked NBA leaders Cleveland.
Rashard Lewis added 22 points and Hedo Turkoglu chipped in 13 for Orlando, who remained percentage points behind Boston for the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Cavs superstar LeBron James finished with 26 points and nine rebounds but shot just seven-for-20 from the floor.
The Most Valuable Player candidate helped Cleveland avoid their worst defeat since he was drafted in 2003, but they still suffered their most lopsided loss of this season, worse than their 17-point setback to the Los Angeles Lakers in January.
Cleveland had their 13-game winning streak snapped on Thursday by the lowly Washington Wizards and the Magic saw to it that they lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.
All of the Magic starters scored in double figures in the victory, which followed a players-only meeting on Thursday in the wake of a loss to Toronto.
Howard said he addressed his teammates, mostly about sharpening their game heading into the playoffs.
“We’re a pretty loud bunch,” Howard said. “We’re a pretty loose team, but we have to realize some of the foolishness — I don’t know if it’s foolishness but the goofiness — has to stop. We have to make sure we warm up right and get ready to go.”
LAKERS 93, ROCKETS 81
At Los Angeles, Pau Gasol had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Kobe Bryant added 20 points as the Los Angeles Lakers downed Houston for their 60th victory.
Derek Fisher added 15 for the Lakers, who reached 60 wins for the 11th time in franchise history and the first since they went 67-15 in 1999-2000. Los Angeles pulled within a game of Cleveland for the NBA’s best record. Ron Artest had 21 points for Houston.