MIAMI (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – When the Miami Heat hit the halfway point of their season with only 10 wins, the idea of getting back to .500 was almost comical.
Well a lot has changed since then.
The Heat will try to extend a long home winning streak and return to .500 for the first time in more than four months when they host the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.
Friday’s 123-105 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves gave the Heat seven consecutive victories at AmericanAirlines Arena and pulled the team — once 19 games below .500 — to within a game of the even mark.
“Probably anybody could have followed our team when we went on all those championship runs, but this is a totally different group,” coach Erik Spoelstra told reportsts Friday. “The enthusiasm, the passion to follow this team probably matches that — and I think that’s pretty cool.”
Miami lost at Portland on Dec. 3 to fall to 7-13 and kick off a 4-18 slide, but its remarkable turnaround has given Spoelstra’s squad a one-game advantage on Detroit in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Trail Blazers are in the midst of a playoff push of their own, winning for the seventh time in nine games with a victory at Atlanta on Saturday.
Damian Lillard led six players in double figures with 27 points as Portland pulled within 1 1/2 games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
TV: 6 p.m. ET, CSN Northwest (Portland), FSN Sun (Miami)
ABOUT THE TRAIL BLAZERS (31-37): Saturday marked the return of veteran swingman Evan Turner, who missed more than a month of action with a fractured right hand. Turner made just 1-of-9 shots in 18 minutes but he managed eight rebounds — including a team-high four on the offensive end — and three assists.
Lillard is averaging 32.8 points during his last five games and has made all 33 of his foul shots over a four-game span.
ABOUT THE HEAT (34-35): Center Hassan Whiteside scored 23 points in Friday’s win and he was matched by reserve guard Tyler Johnson, who led a 60-point showing by the Miami bench.
“These guys are very hungry,” Whiteside told reporters. “A lot of these guys, we got them out of the jungle. These guys have been written off in the NBA.”
James Johnson chipped in 17 points and six assists off the bench and he has scored in double figures in five straight games.
- Heat G Dion Waiters, who has been a key part of the team’s turnaround, injured his left ankle Friday night and does not have a timetable on when he will return.
- Whiteside had 28 points and 16 rebounds in the first meeting.
- Blazers SG C.J. McCollum has one turnover in 101 minutes over his last three games.
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