Five takeaways: The Heat take advantage of Paul George’s ejection in 113-95 win over Pacers

Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters goes to the basket as Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner defends during Saturday's game in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters goes to the basket as Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner defends during Saturday’s game in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

MIAMI – The Miami Heat received a break Saturday and took advantage.

Pacers All-Star Paul George was ejected early in the third quarter Saturday after picking up his second technical foul and Miami used his absence to turn a close game into a rout.

The Heat raced to a 113-95 victory over Indiana for their 16th win in their past 18 games. Miami (27-32) is within five games of .500 for the first time since Dec. 1

George, the Pacers’ leading scorer, was ejected for the third time this season with 8:49 remaining in the third quarter. Miami led by six points when George headed to the locker room and stretched the lead to 19 with about five minutes remaining thanks to a 23-2 run.

“You don’t want players to miss at all,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If he played, it looked like it was going to be your typical Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers game that goes down to the last possession. He’s an absolutely elite, great basketball player and you have to get into the competition with him. That was unfortunate for him.”

George took a shot at referee Gary Zielinski when he told reporters, “he was a puppet with Spoelstra in his ear and he called it.”

Zielinski told a pool reporter the second technical was for “using profanity.”

Said George: “It’s not like I said something derogative to him. I said, ‘It’s a (expletive) foul!’

The Heat had three players surpass 20 points for the fourth time this season. Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters each scored 22 points and Goran Dragic added 21. Whiteside added 17 rebounds.

James Johnson had 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

Backup center Willie Reed left the game with 6:48 remaining with a right calf strain.

“We won’t know (the severity) until tomorrow,” Spoelstra said. “Knock on wood, hopefully we get a good report.”

Whiteside said Reed left the locker room on crutches.

Here are our five takeaways:

Playoff ramifications: The Heat are now 1 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot, which is occupied by the Pistons, and moved to within three games of the sixth spot and seventh spots, held by the Pacers and Bulls after Chicago’s victory over the Cavaliers, who were without LeBron James and Kevin Love. Additionally, Miami clinched the season series against the Pacers, having won the first two contests with the only game remaining being March 12 in Indiana.

Excitable Whiteside: Whiteside was as animated as he’s been all season, clenching his fists, screaming and encouraging the fans to get on their feet as the Heat started pulling away late in the third quarter. Whiteside’s most emotional outburst came as he was scoring six consecutive Heat points in a 57-second span to give Miami an eight-point lead, the final two coming on a dunk off a lob pass from Johnson. Whiteside’s double-double was his 37th of the season.

“I thought he brought a terrific disposition,” Spoelsta said. “Even in the first half, Hassan just got every single rebound. I though he was good on pick and rolls, doing the little things. It was great to see him make a lot of winning plays, make a big impact.”

George’s short night: The Heat weren’t even sure they would see Paul George in a Pacers uniform as Thursday’s trade deadline approached. But the Pacers and Celtics could not reach a deal and the seven-year veteran remained a Pacer. George’s night ended with 8:49 remaining in the third quarter when he was hit with a technical foul, his second in less than two minutes. George and Rodney McGruder were assessed double technicals 1:15 into the third quarter for a minor shoving match. George’s second technical was for arguing a call. George, who entered averaging 22.0 points, had just 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting.

McGruder was surprised when the double technical was called. “Just two guys competing, just got caught up in the game and just a little bit of shoving,” he said. But when asked about Georges’s second technical, he said: “He said something to the ref. I feel like you shouldn’t talk to them like that.”

When asked about the technicals after the game, George said: “This is a soft league.”

Babbitt bombs: Luke Babbitt entered the game off his best stretch of 3-point shooting this season, making 9 of-12 in his past five games, including equaling his season high with four 3s in Atlanta the previous night. The Heat’s starting power forward continued his hot hand Saturday, draining 3-of-5 from long distance and finishing with nine points.

“I want him launching them,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t care whether they go in or not. When he’s out there past the 3-point line … that’s when we want him taking those shots and want him being aggressive.”

7-11 backcourt still making open shots: Dragic and Waiters have been among the top backcourts in the league the past month with both averaging more than 20 points. The two, once again were steady and efficient, combining for 43 points on 16-of-27 shooting. Dragic was 8-of-12 from the floor and Waiters made 8-of-16 shots. They also converted 4-of-9 3-pointers.

“The two of them enjoy playing (together),” Spoelstra said. “You don’t want to take that for granted because of chemistry and cohesiveness. That takes time. Those guys enjoy how their games complement each other. They respect the other player’s strength. When they are both on top of their games, they’re unique. They’re both extremely aggressive. They’re tough to keep out of the paint. But they’re both such willing passers, to be able to get off the ball and make the game easier for their teammates. When you have two guys like that, it really helps your offense.”

[Heat guard Josh Richardson’s role should grow after limited time in first game back from injury]

[Pat Riley on Magic Johnson: ‘He’ll get the job done’ as the Lakers president]

[Dion Waiters ready to accept Pat Riley’s challenge]

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