- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

MIAMI (AP) - Hassan Whiteside isn’t starting. He’s finishing, though, and that’s far more important to the Miami Heat these days.

The impending free agent center was brilliant off the bench again, scoring 26 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking five shots to lead the Heat past the Orlando Magic 108-97 on Friday night. He shot 10 for 15, even after missing his last four shots.

“My family came down here today and I’m just glad they got to see me play,” Whiteside said. “It took me a long time to get here. I’m just so thankful just to get the opportunity to showcase my talents. It’s really special to me.”

Goran Dragic scored 22 points and handed out eight assists for Miami, which is 14-1 in its last 15 games against the Magic and remained in the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. Rookie Josh Richardson scored 14 points, Amare Stoudemire had 13, Dwyane Wade finished with 11 and Luol Deng had a 10-point, 13-rebound night for the Heat.

In his last 18 games, all off the bench, Whiteside is averaging 18 points and 13.7 rebounds on 60.5 percent shooting - with 16 double-doubles in that span as well.

“He’s got great hands and has a nice touch around the basket,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said.

Evan Fournier scored 20 points for the Magic, who have lost 30 times in their last 40 games. Andrew Nicholson scored 19 points and Elfrid Payton finished with 14 for the injury-depleted Magic.

Orlando was without Victor Oladipo (right wrist), Ersan Ilyasova (right shoulder) and Nikola Vucevic (right groin). Oladipo and Ilyasova were both hurt during Wednesday’s loss to Detroit, and Vucevic missed his 11th consecutive game.

So even with a starting lineup cobbled together for the first time, Orlando still held a 57-54 lead at the half after shooting 52 percent.

That storyline went away in the third, after the Heat switched things up defensively at halftime.

“The players in the locker room handled most of the discussion, which I liked,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Miami matched a season-best by winning the third quarter by 19 points, holding Orlando to 21 percent shooting in that 31-12 outburst. A pair of 3-pointers from Richardson started a 15-2 spurt that ended the quarter, with Whiteside scoring seven points in 1:38 to end that flurry. The Heat led 85-69 going into the final 12 minutes.

“They just made their run,” Nicholson said. “They’re a good team. Give them credit.”

TIP-INS

Magic: Tennis star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stopped by Orlando shootaround on Friday morning and signed a shirt for Fournier, a fellow Frenchman. Tsonga is playing in the Miami Open on nearby Key Biscayne. … Orlando has given up at least 100 points in 19 of its last 20 games. … When the Magic hold teams to 101 or fewer points, they’re 23-8. When giving up 102 or more, they’re 6-35.

Heat: The game was Heat rookie Justise Winslow’s last as a teenager. He turns 20 on Saturday. … Miami’s April 5 home game with Detroit has been pushed back to 8 p.m. and now will be televised by TNT. … Joe Johnson has played in 30 regular-season wins against Orlando, the sixth player to do that. … Heat centers shot 16 for 22, with Stoudemire going 6 for 7 in addition to Whiteside’s 10 for 15.

DUNKING DRAGIC

Dragic got his first dunk of the season, sending the Heat bench into hysterics. In the second quarter, Dragic had a runout and instead of just laying the ball in as he customarily does, he went up for a two-handed slam that prompted his teammates to celebrate wildly from the bench. “I’m 1 for 2 now this season,” Dragic said.

SKILES ANNIVERSARY

It was the 25th anniversary of one of the finest games in Skiles’ playing career. On March 25, 1991, he had 31 points, 14 assists and four steals to lead the Magic past Golden State 115-106. The 52-year-old Skiles said he hasn’t played even for fun since 2007, when the Chicago team he was coaching at the time needed extra bodies for practice.

UP NEXT

Magic: Host Chicago on Saturday night.

Heat: Host Brooklyn on Monday night.

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