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Heat have won seven of last eight games

3/21/2004

MIAMI (AP) -- When the Miami Heat have their starting lineup
intact, they are one of the Eastern Conference's top teams.

They proved it Saturday.

Dwyane Wade and Eddie Jones scored 17 points apiece in a 101-69
rout of fading Philadelphia. It was the Heat's fourth consecutive
victory and seventh in eight games. They also improved to 14-7 with
Wade, Jones, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant starting
together -- the lineup team president and former coach Pat Riley
assembled to lead the franchise back to prominence.

"We're so much better when we're healthy," Butler said.
"Coach always says that when we get our core guys together, we're
amazing to watch. Now it's really happening for us. We know
anything can happen, even in the playoffs."

The Heat moved into a tie with New York for the sixth seed in
the East. The Knicks played later Saturday at Chicago.

The 76ers are headed in the opposite direction. They have lost
four in a row, are falling way back in the race for the final
playoff spot and dealing with trade rumors surrounding star Allen
Iverson.

"I'm not going to say it's the final blow until it's the final
out," guard Eric Snow said. "It's possible that we can get back
in it, but with us being four out with 12 left, we have to win
almost all of them. With each game that we lose, our chances
slip."

After a strong second quarter and a fast start in the third, the
Heat led 49-35. But Kenny Thomas scored 13 points in the third to
cut the lead to 60-55. That was as close as Philly got.

The Heat outscored the Sixers 41-14 the rest of the way.

"They cut it to five, and we took it to another level," Jones
said.

The 76ers were 3-of-23 shooting in the final frame, including
0-of-9 from 3-point range. Iverson was 1-of-5 in the fourth. He and
Thomas led the team with 23 points apiece.

"We just lost it," said Iverson, who had his best game since
returning from a swollen right knee. "We had the momentum and had
a chance to get back in it. We just couldn't pull it off. I could
sit here and say a million different things about how we could stop
that run. We just didn't."

Odom had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Grant had six and six.
Butler finished with eight points, eight rebounds and four assists.

The bench was even better, with Rafer Alston making three
3-pointers, and Udonis Haslem finishing with 12 points and 10
rebounds.

"He just absolutely outmuscled guys," said Heat coach Stan Van
Gundy, whose team had a 54-34 rebounding edge.

Some of that had to do with the Sixers playing without forwards
Glenn Robinson and Derrick Coleman. Robinson is on the injured list
after having elbow surgery. Coleman was a late scratch due to
tendinitis in his left knee.

The Heat are playing with more confidence than they have all
season, maybe even in recent years. They won their seventh straight
at home, but are 8-25 on the road -- a record they know they need to
improve heading into the playoffs.

Miami plays six of its next eight on the road.

"We have a lot of growth to do now," Van Gundy said. "We have
been a totally different team away from home, so we are going to
have to grow up in that regard."

Having the starting five intact should help.

Butler missed the first five games after having surgery on his
left knee. He missed another nine games with various injuries to
his left leg, right elbow and back. Grant missed five games with
tendinitis in his right knee.

Wade has been sidelined the most. He missed two games because of
a hip pointer, two because of a sprained left foot, two because of
a sore right foot and 14 because of a bruised right wrist.

"Guys were injured early on and it hurt," said Jones,
referencing Miami's 5-15 start. "But we have good players. We have
a lot of talent, and talent overcomes anything."

Game notes
Alston extended his league-leading streak of consecutive
games with a 3-pointer to 35. ... NFL star Warren Sapp sat
courtside and spent much of the game talking on his cell phone.
Sapp agreed to terms with the Oakland Raiders on Saturday, ending
his nine-year tenure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. ... Comedian
Tommy Davidson and Minnesota Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie
also were in attendance.