Home win streak at six for Heat, Wang benched
The last time Heat-Hornets carried this much fury, Pat Riley's team was being humiliated in the 2001 playoffs.
Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, emotions sizzled in the Heat's 96-83 victory over New Orleans.
"That's about as wild as it gets," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They just turned it into a very ugly street fight. We got through it -- another major step for us."
In many ways, the game could wind up mirroring the outcome of the simmering Eastern Conference playoff race -- last man standing.
"We've got some relentless personalities over here," Heat forward Lamar Odom said, "some boxer mentalities, as far as bleed, gonna get up, hurt, gonna get up."
New Orleans entered without ailing starting forwards Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown. The two would not be the only ones scratched from the box score.
Late in the third quarter, Odom was banished to the locker room with his second technical foul. Minutes earlier, Hornets All-Star center Jamaal Magloire was ejected for tossing the ball into the stands following a foul.
In all, six technical fouls were called.
As much as anything, it was an embarrassment for the officiating crew of Eddie F. Rush, Bill Kennedy and Rodney Mott, who lost such control that they barely flinched at the end when players and coaches were haranguing them with obscenities.
Through it all, the Heat kept enough composure to remain in a tie with the New York Knicks for the seventh playoff seed in the East. A spot in the postseason would be the first for the Heat since it was obliterated 3-0 by the Hornets in the 2001 first round.
Thanks to Odom's 13 rebounds before he exited, the Heat closed with a 44-39 edge on the boards a week after it was pummeled 58-38 in New Orleans, in the Hornets' only victory in the four-game season series. In that loss, the Heat was outscored 42-13 at the foul line. This time there was a 22-17 advantage.
About the only constant from last week's loss in New Orleans, the Heat's lone loss in its last seven games, was the tenacity of Hornets guard Baron Davis, who followed last week's 33-point performance against the Heat with 23.
But with Davis offering little beyond his 5-of-11 3-point shooting, thanks in part to a renewed defensive vigor by Heat point guard Dwyane Wade, the Heat extended its home winning streak to a season-best six in a row and, at 31-37, moved within six games of .500 for the first time since Jan. 31.
Wade led the Heat with 23 points, adding seven rebounds and a Heat season-best six steals.
"We've got enough character now to pull through," he said.
Forward Caron Butler added 20 points.
"At the end," Butler said, "we made a stand, let our game do the talking."
Otherwise, beyond 17 points from reserve point guard Rafer Alston, there was little offensive consistency. Odom shot 3 of 11 for nine points before leaving. Guard Eddie Jones was scoreless in the first half and closed with eight points, as did center Brian Grant.
Of all the tangled twists, the Odom incident was the strangest.
In the midst of two free throws, moments after being knocked to the court by Hornets forward Stacey Augmon, Odom was banished to the locker room with his second technical for taunting the Hornets' Robert Traylor.
Because Odom had one foul shot remaining, the Hornets were allowed to select a replacement shooter for the second free throw. Samaki Walker, who entered at 58.1 percent from the line, then converted.
"We just kept fighting," Van Gundy said. "That's all that game was about.
"I thought for a while it frustrated us. And then I thought we dug in and just said, `The heck with it.'"