By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI (AP) – Dwyane Wade took a moment before tipoff Sunday to reflect on all that his Miami Heat endured this season.
They lost Chris Bosh at the All-Star break to a blood clot for a second consecutive year, forcing them to significantly change their style of play. They handled injuries, saw assistant coach Keith Smart deal with cancer treatment that took him away from the team and reshaped their roster in free-agent deals and trades.
In that moment, Wade realized how it all made his team stronger.
"I’m not a prophet or anything," Wade said, "but I knew we were winning this game."
How right he was. Goran Dragic scored 25 points in his first Game 7, Gerald Green added 16 and the Heat ousted the Charlotte Hornets with an emphatic 106-73 victory. Miami won two elimination games to take the series 4-3, and will play either Toronto or Indiana in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting on Tuesday night.
"Just great competition," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, lauding the Hornets. "Our hats go off to them. They made us better. … I think our basketball team needed to go through that, to be pushed and find a different level which we showed in the last two games."
Luol Deng scored 15, Wade finished with 12 and Hassan Whiteside had a 10-point, 12-rebound, five-block clincher for the Heat, who have won their last four Game 7s.
Frank Kaminsky scored 12 for Charlotte, which got 11 from Courtney Lee and 10 from Nic Batum. The Hornets’ two biggest stars, Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, never got going – combining for 13 points.
"I thought we had a great season," said Walker, who shot 3 for 16. "We were really resilient. We had a lot of injuries but we stuck together all year. When guys’ names got called to make plays and step up, they did. A lot of people didn’t even think we’d be here."
A contentious series, with too much attention getting placed on courtside fan behavior and NBA officiating reports, pushed Miami to the limit. Charlotte had a chance to close out the Heat on its home floor in Game 6, wasting the opportunity.
The Hornets never had a chance in Game 7.
Miami led the whole way, taking a 12-point lead at the half and stretching it to 24 by the midpoint of the third quarter – the period that has been a problem for the Heat all season but became the catalyst to what became a rout on Sunday. And with that, it was obvious that Charlotte’s season was going to be bookended.
— Juan Perez (@JPerezinMia) May 1, 2016
It started with a loss in Miami.
And it ended with a loss in Miami.
"I still thought at halftime, we were fine," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "And then in the third quarter, it got away from us."
Wade has played in 29 postseason series; the Heat have won 22 of them. And under Spoelstra, the Heat are now 15-4 in postseason series, 8-4 when facing elimination games and 15-5 in games when they have a chance to oust an opponent.
"I’m going to be honest," Dragic said. "It was pressure."
They handled it with ease, as Wade knew they would.
Hornets: Charlotte finished 5-6 against Miami this season. … Owner Michael Jordan was in a suite and got a first-half visit from Scottie Pippen – his teammate for six championships in Chicago. … Spencer Hawes (knee) was active, even though Charlotte said after Game 5 he was out for the rest of the series. He didn’t play. Marvin Williams also has been dealing with a significant elbow issue, Clifford said. … Walker shot 56 for 153 (37 percent) in the series.
Heat: Whiteside (24) passed Alonzo Mourning for the most blocks by a Miami player in a seven-game series. Mourning’s record was 21. … The Heat paid tribute to their NBA Development League affiliate Sioux Falls SkyForce during a second-quarter time out. The SkyForce won the D-League title last week, after setting a league record for regular-season victories. … Tyler Johnson (shoulder) got his first playing time since January, coming in late in the fourth.
GAME 7 EXPERIENCE
The Heat are now 6-3 all-time in Game 7s, and 7-6 in ultimate games (when counting Game 5s in best-of-five series). Charlotte is 0-2 in Game 7s.
KINGS COURTING EWING
Charlotte associate head coach Patrick Ewing will interview with the Sacramento Kings about their head coaching vacancy. Ewing has been an NBA assistant since 2002, working with Washington, Houston, Orlando and Charlotte.
Ewing played for Mike Jarvis in high school, John Thompson in college and the likes of Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy in the NBA. "He believes in balance, he believes in work, he believes in defense and he believes in structure," Clifford said, adding that Ewing – despite his lineage as one of the game’s all-time great players – never took a shortcut in his coaching career.
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