Heat-76ers Preview

With their backcourt providing an offensive spark and Hassan Whiteside anchoring the defense, the Miami Heat have stretched out their Southeast Division advantage.

The Heat look to continue making the most of a soft portion of the schedule Friday night when they open a home-and-home set with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Miami (35-26) was three games back of defending division-champion Atlanta following a 1-7 stretch on Jan. 22 before turning things around by winning 12 of its past 17 games.

Dwyane Wade had 25 points and Goran Dragic added 22 in Thursday's 108-92 home win over Phoenix that gave them a two-game lead on the Hawks. Wade has scored 24.4 per game in his last five, while Dragic has averaged 19.3 points and 7.0 assists over his past eight.

They've helped the club put up 107.4 points per game in its last eight after ranking 29th with a 95.9 scoring average - ahead of only Philadelphia's 94.9 mark - over its previous 52.

Miami, which allows an Eastern Conference-low 96.8 points per game, held the Suns to a 40.2 field-goal percentage and 5-of-22 shooting from 3-point range. Whiteside finished with nine points, 11 rebounds and five blocks and he's averaging 18.4, 15 and 4.1 in his last seven.

The Heat, 6-2 since losing leading scorer Chris Bosh, hope to inch closer to third-place Boston as they chase a fourth straight win in a stretch with five of seven against losing teams. Chicago is the only non-losing club in that span at 30-30, but has dropped 18 of 26.

''It's the time of the year where you've got to win games you're supposed to win,'' said Wade, who insists he'll play in the second of back-to-back games.

Highly touted rookies and former Duke teammates Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow might not get a chance to face each other in the opener of back-to-back meetings. Okafor, averaging a team-high 17.5 points, could miss a third straight game with a shin injury.

Jerami Grant has totaled 21 points while replacing Okafor in the starting lineup. He was fined $10,000 for throwing a water bottle into the stands versus Washington on Monday.

Philadelphia (8-53) looks to avoid its 11th straight loss after falling 119-99 to Charlotte on Wednesday. Robert Covington, Nerlens Noel and Isaiah Canaan had 17 points each, but the Hornets shot 49.4 percent and had a 50-38 edge on the glass.

''We've got to find ways to get back in it,'' coach Brett Brown said. ''I think the game ends up feeling long; it is long. You're not going to get a win unless you play long.''

The 76ers, last in the NBA with 96.4 points per game, have played better of late with an average of 105.6 over the past nine. They haven't been able to contain opponents at the other end, however, surrendering 118.6 on 49 percent shooting over that stretch.

Canaan finished with 22 points, Covington had 21 and Okafor added 16 and 11 rebounds Nov. 21 when Philadelphia gave Miami everything it could handle in a 96-91 road loss. Wade scored 27 and Winslow had a big tip-in with 27 seconds left to help the Heat overcome a late 11-point deficit for their 24th victory in the past 28 meetings, including the playoffs.

Miami will host the 76ers on Sunday night.

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