MIAMI - Long removed from their 0-7 start, the Miami Heat now seem unbeatable at home - which is why they're headed for the second round of the NBA playoffs.
With the Heat running from the start and New Orleans guard Baron Davis hobbled by halftime, Miami extended its home winning streak to 16 games by beating the Hornets 85-77 on Tuesday night to clinch the first-round series, 4-3.
The home team won every game, and the Heat became the final NBA team to reach round two - and the most improbable. They were 25-57 last season, 0-7 early in November and 25-36 in March before staging a late-season surge.
Miami advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers, who have been idle since completing a sweep of Boston on April 25. Game 1 is Thursday in Indianapolis.
Smothering defense and a potent fast break gave the largest crowd in Heat history plenty to cheer about.
Caron Butler led the winner-take-all victory with 23 points, and Rafer Alston made four free throws in the final 2:09 after the Hornets reduced a 16-point deficit to five.
The injury-plagued Davis bruised his tailbone when he drew an offensive foul and took a tumble late in the second quarter. He limped to the locker room before halftime, played just three minutes in the second half and watched the fourth quarter from the bench as New Orleans turned to veteran Steve Smith for the bulk of its offense.
Davis had been hampered earlier in the series by knee, ankle and elbow injuries.
"I can't move too much," he shouted to coach Tim Floyd shortly before leaving the game for good with the Hornets trailing 52-39.
Miami made the other Hornets look just as slow, outscoring them 14-0 on fast-break points in the first half.
The Heat's defense forced 21 turnovers to create repeated opportunities in the open court.
None of the Hornets' starters reached double figures until the final three minutes. The 35-year-old Smith came off the bench to keep them in the game with a season-high 25 points, including five 3-pointers.
The Heat survived some shaky moments down the stretch. They had their biggest lead, 71-55 with less than seven minutes left, but two 3-pointers by Smith helped cut the margin to 73-68 with 3:22 to go.
Smith missed a 3-pointer that would have cut the margin to three with 44 seconds left, and Dwyane Wade's dunk with 32 seconds left sealed the victory.
luis alvarez/associated pressMiami's Dwyane Wade (left) goes for the basket as New Orleans' Baron Davis tries to block his shot during Game 7 of their first round playoff series. The Heat advanced with their victory.
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