MIAMI (AP)—Flight problems forced the Charlotte Bobcats to arrive in South Florida one day behind schedule.
If they knew what awaited, the Bobcats may have considered not coming at all.
More importantly for Miami (46-23), it now has a six-game lead over New Jersey (39-28) in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Heat have 13 games left, two fewer than the Nets.
“It’s just good to get this win and get ready for Indiana and the next six or seven games that are coming our way,” said Heat coach Pat Riley, referring to his team’s next game—Monday at home against the Pacers.
Wade had 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting, along with eight assists and five rebounds. O’Neal had 22 points and nine rebounds in only 26 minutes for the Heat, who shot 58 percent from the field and finished off a four-game season sweep of the Bobcats.
“We were moving the ball around,” Wade said. “We got good shots and guys were knocking them down. And I think we did a good job defensively.”
Raymond Felton had 11 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and Brevin Knight had 17 points and six assists for Charlotte, which lost for the 19th time in its last 21 road games. Gerald Wallace added 11 for the Bobcats, who saw their streak of three straight 100-point games—which tied a season high— end.
The game was tied only once—2-2—and Miami never trailed, building a 16-point lead by halftime and extending it to 30 early in the fourth quarter.
“When we come to Miami, we need to just mail it in,” said Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff, whose team got to town Thursday instead of Wednesday night as scheduled after their game in Cleveland. “We don’t even need to stop.”
Michael Doleac—who’ll be Miami’s primary backup center now that Alonzo Mourning will miss 2-4 weeks with a partially torn right calf—scored a season-high 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Antoine Walker added 14 points and Udonis Haslem had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Heat.
After the game, Mourning said he will begin rehabbing on Saturday and hopes to have his walking boot off by Monday.
“Guys get hurt and obviously we don’t wish that on anyone,” Doleac said. “It happens, so the team has to step up. It’s an opportunity for me to step up and play and hopefully I can contribute good minutes when I’m in there and hold it down until Zo gets back.”
Miami led 64-48 at halftime, shooting 64 percent from the floor and benefiting from 10 first-half dunks. O’Neal had five of those slams, four of the alley-oop variety—including one off a lob from Jason Williams a tenth of a second before intermission.
The Heat made their first five shots, jumped out to quick leads of 12-4 and 24-11, and never trailed. Charlotte got within 25-21 late in the first quarter and trailed 39-32 with 7:52 left in the half, until Walker and Gary Payton scored four points apiece in an 8-0 run that pushed the Miami cushion back to 15.
Charlotte never got closer than 13 points in the second half.
“We didn’t play hard enough and well enough to win this game,” Knight said. “If you don’t do that, the results are such.”
Miami is 29-6 against sub-.500 teams and now leads the Southeast Division by 10 games over idle Washington. … Wallace didn’t start because he was late to a team function Friday morning, then left in the third quarter after O’Neal inadvertently elbowed him in the mouth while grabbing a rebound. … Charlotte’s Jumaine Jones saw his 32-game streak with at least one 3-pointer end. … Heat C Earl Barron played for the first time since Nov. 12. … With the Nasdaq-100 Open only a few miles away in Key Biscayne, tennis star Maria Sharapova sat courtside. … Five-time Grammy winner Michael McDonald sang the national anthem and will headline a Heat charity benefit Saturday night.