Five takeaways: Heat cruise past Knicks to clinch winning road trip in middle of playoff race

NEW YORK — The Heat didn’t need a buzzer-beater this time.

A night after using a game-winning tip-in from Hassan Whiteside as time expired to defeat the Pistons, Miami didn’t have to sweat down the stretch in New York. The Heat cruised to a 105-88 win over the Knicks (28-47) on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden to end the three-game road trip with a 2-1 record.

Miami (37-38) never trailed in the second half and led by as much as 23 points in the fourth quarter. The loss eliminated the Knicks from the playoff hunt, as Miami went on to move to 26-8 over its past 34 games.

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 29: Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat heads for the net as Ron Baker #31 of the New York Knicks defends at Madison Square Garden on March 29, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Miami took control of the game in the second half on the defensive end of the floor. The Heat limited the Knicks to 35.4 percent shooting over the final two quarters, as New York finished the contest shooting 37.1 percent.

“In the second half, we showed more energy, but also more connection,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We weren’t communicating well with each other in the first half. A little frustration and not doing the little things, the tough things that we need to do that’s really been a staple to our identity. It was much better in the second, I liked the activity. For better or worse, that’s what’s successful for us. On the second night to be able to hold them down to under 40 percent and under 90 points, that’s the habit we’re trying to build.”

The Heat’s starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson combined to score 37 points.

The Knicks were led by Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds. New York point guard Derrick Rose did not play against Miami due to a sore left knee.

The Heat have seven games remaining in the regular season, with four of them coming at home. Miami is now 3-3 since Dion Waiters went out with a sprained left ankle.

Here are our five takeaways …

Positive signs from Josh Richardson: It had been a difficult road trip for Josh Richardson. Starting in place of the injured Dion Waiters, Richardson scored a combined 18 points on 6-of-21 shooting (28.6 percent) over the first two games of Miami’s three-game trip. But the second-year guard put together an encouraging performance in New York to close out the road trip, finishing with 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting and five steals. It marked Richardson’s highest point total since he scored 19 against Boston on Dec. 30.

“He’s playing three positions offensively,” Spoelstra said of Richardson. “He can organize us, get us into offense, he can play off the ball. But more importantly, on the other end he literally guarded four positions, including the four. He was guarding [Kristaps] Porzingis at times, [Carmelo] Anthony and then all their guards. And he does it without looking at you crazy. He just takes on the challenge and works at it.”

The night after: The Heat locker room was still buzzing Wednesday about Hassan Whiteside’s game-winner from the night before. How would Whiteside follow up that performance less than 24 hours after the first buzzer-beater of his NBA career? The 27-year-old didn’t put up his best performance against the Knicks, but he was solid with 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Just the fact that Whiteside continues to play with his stitched-up right hand is impressive enough.

New York, meet Johnson and Johnson: This is becoming the new normal for the Heat. Tyler Johnson and James Johnson are the leaders of a Heat bench that entered Wednesday ranked seventh in the NBA with 39.1 points per game this season. The Johnsons made their presence felt against the Knicks, combining to record 30 points, 14 rebounds and five assists.

Rodney “Tough Assignment” McGruder: Another game, another tough matchup for Rodney McGruder. Erik Spoelstra has called on McGruder to take on the toughest defensive assignment in most games this season. The rookie has already defended players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George. On Wednesday, the 6-foot-4 McGruder started out on the 6-foot-8 Carmelo Anthony. But McGruder didn’t last long on Anthony, as he was limited to 13 minutes due to foul trouble. With McGruder on the bench, Josh Richardson and James Johnson helped to defend the Knicks’ leading scorer. Anthony finished with just nine points on 4-of-12 shooting after going scoreless in the first half.

Heat keep moving toward trip to playoffs: The Heat are now in the Eastern Conference’s seventh playoff spot, moving ahead of the Pacers after Indiana’s loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday. Miami and Indiana have the same record, but the Heat are ahead in the standings based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. Miami’s win over New York also moved the Heat 1.5 games ahead of the No. 9 Bulls.

“We can’t control what other teams are doing,” Whiteside said. “Right now we’re in the playoffs so we have a playoff mindset already. It means a lot to us and we’re just going to keep trying to fill in that win column.”

[NBA officiating report states Hassan Whiteside’s game-winning basket vs. Pistons never should have happened]

[A look at what went right for Heat, wrong for Pistons leading up to Hassan Whiteside’s game-winner]

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