After a slow climb, Miami is enjoying the view from atop the Atlantic Division.
Despite playing its third game in four days, for the second straight night Miami blew open a close game with suffocating defense in the third quarter to beat the Toronto Raptors 83-73 Thursday.
Miami's ninth straight win at home and 14th victory in its last 16 games kept the Heat in first place, ahead of the Orlando Magic by 1½ games.
"It's where we belong," said Alonzo Mourning, who scored 20 of his 23 points in the first half, and had 16 rebounds. "I think it's a matter of us maintaining and staying there. It's a little more comfortable spot for us."
Tim Hardaway scored eight of his 10 points in the third quarter to spark a 15-0 run, turning a 47-46 deficit into a substantial lead.
"When you look in the papers every day and see us fighting behind by two or three games, I didn't think we'd ever get sole possession of first," said P.J. Brown. "We have to continue to work hard. Too bad the season doesn't end today."
Miami outscored Toronto 28-8, a season-low allowed in any quarter by the Heat, and led the Raptors 65-50 after three.
"We got stronger as the game progressed," said Heat coach Pat Riley. "The third quarter was outstanding."
Clarence Weatherspoon added a season-igh 22 points for Miami.
Toronto made just 2-of-18 from the field in the third quarter, the least amount of field goals in any quarter in franchise history. The eight points was also a club low.
"Being young has nothing to do with us making so many mistakes and making just 2-of-18 in the third quarter," said Toronto coach Butch Carter. "We lost this one, player vs. player and coach vs. coach."
Hardaway, who recorded 10 assists, then scored five points of the 15-0 burst, giving Miami a lead it wouldn't relinquish. Hardaway then punctuated the 28-8 quarter with a 3-pointer with two seconds left, staking the Heat to a 65-50 lead after three.
"It's nice to be in first place," Hardaway said. "We're playing hard, doing the right things."
The eight points allowed by Miami was a franchise-record for fewest points yielded in the third quarter.
Toronto was unable to chop Miami's lead under double figures in the fourth quarter and wound up with a season-low 73, four points less than the 77 scored in a 91-77 loss to Milwaukee on Feb. 9.
"It happens," Carter said of the third-quarter collapse in which Toronto went 10:04 between field goals.
Mourning scored 11 points in the second quarter, but Carter's 14 first-half points helped Toronto take a 42-37 halftime lead.
- Miami's 20-point differential in the third quarter was the largest in any quarter this season.
- When Miami fell behind 9-0, it marked the biggest deficit to start a game this season.
- Toronto placed Negele Knight on the injured list with a lower back strain and activated Micheal Williams, who had been out with an injured foot. Knight will be out at least a week.
- Miami has outscored its opponents in the second half in 15 of the last 16 games.
- Dan Majerle's 3-pointer in the first quarter extended Miami's NBA record of consecutive games with at least one 3 to 395.
- Tim Hardaway's 3-pointer in the third quarter gives him a streak of 24 games with at least one.
- Miami is 11-2 against Toronto and hasn't lost to the Raptors since March 30, 1997.
- Miami's mark for fewest points allowed in a quarter is six points.
- The start of the second half was delayed sven minutes due to a net replacement.
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