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Whiteside dominates as Heat complete sweep of Rockets

(TSX / STATS) -- HOUSTON -- The final rebounding totals didn't reveal a decisive advantage for the Heat, yet one particular stretch in the second quarter proved lopsided enough for Miami to assert its influence on the boards and set the tone for the evening.

Hassan Whiteside posted his 36th double-double and paced a critical performance on the offensive glass as the Miami Heat completed a season sweep of the Houston Rockets with a 117-109 victory Wednesday night at Toyota Center.

Whiteside finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds plus five blocks as Miami (25-32) turned 12 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points for the wire-to-wire win. Whiteside grabbed three offensive boards and wasn't alone in his handiwork as Heat guards Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson combined to corral 16 rebounds.

"We've allowed guys to purse offensive rebounds a little bit more than we have in the past," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "In terms of Hassan and one or two other guys getting an initial assault on the offensive glass, it fits us being physical and we've given them a little bit more freedom to do that."

Waiters had 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists; Johnson added 16 points and seven boards off the bench. Goran Dragic chipped in 21 points and five assists as Miami shot 52.4 percent overall including 13 for 35 from 3-point range.

James Harden produced his 15th triple-double on the season, one more than the previous career franchise mark, with 38 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Ryan Anderson added 17 points, including four 3s during a two-minute stretch as Houston (40-18) sliced the deficit to 105-96 with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter.

But Miami harassed Houston into 41.4 percent shooting from the floor, and the Rockets' inability to slow the Heat offense proved to undermine their rally hopes. Houston fell to 4-14 when an opponent shoots 50 percent or better.

"We were struggling. We couldn't contain the ball," Harden said. "They were getting too many offensive rebounds, which were extra possessions."

The Heat recorded nine offensive rebounds and 11 second-chance points in the second quarter and turned the tide during one sequence midway through the period after the Rockets methodically cut an eight-point deficit to 37-35.

Miami collected four offensive rebounds during one offensive series, three by Johnson, who ended the possession with a layup following a Whiteside miss. That stretch provided a spark as Miami stretched its lead to 15 just prior to the break.

"They're just quicker to the ball, especially the first half," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Quicker to the offensive rebounds. We kind of evened it up towards the end but they were just more athletic and went after it a little bit more, and we were just out of sync."

When the Rockets attempted to claw back in the third quarter, the Heat responded with dagger 3-pointers from Rodney McGruder and Waiters. Miami shot 5 for 9 from behind the arc in the third to keep the Rockets at bay, and that shot-making helped the Heat maintain their edge when Anderson caught fire late.

While Houston had its four-game winning streak snapped, the Heat won for the 14th time in 16 games, a run that started with their 109-103 home victory over the Rockets on Jan. 17. Once 19 games under .500, Miami is squarely in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference just two games behind eighth-place Detroit.

"Guys are coming together. Guys are a family," Whiteside said. "Guys' hearts are in the right place. We've got some good guys in here and I think that's what's really been pushing us. We've been jelling."

NOTES: Rockets G Eric Gordon returned to the rotation after missing two games with a sore back. Gordon, second on the team in scoring at 17.2 points per game, is slated to participate in the All-Star Game 3-Point Contest on Saturday in New Orleans. Gordon entered Wednesday tied for third in the league with 181 3s. ... Heat coach Erik Spoelstra continued to harp on defensive focus despite the chatter over the improved offense during the team's recently snapped 13-game winning streak. While Miami averaged 110.4 points per 100 possessions during the stretch, its defensive rating (99.9) was second in the NBA. ... The Rockets are usually active participants before the trade deadline under general manager Daryl Morey. But Houston coach Mike D'Antoni expressed contentment with his current roster in the event the team doesn't make a move. This season's deadline is Feb. 23.

Updated February 16, 2017

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