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Streak turns up Heat

The Miami Heat is winning close games for a change _ and lopsided games, too.

Coach Kevin Loughery's surging team seeks a franchise-record seventh consecutive victory today at home against Philadelphia. The streak has pushed the Heat six games above .500 (31-25) for the first time.

"We're a very confident team right now, and that's what you really need in the NBA," Loughery said.

The surge has improved the coach's chances of remaining with Miami when his contract expires after this season. The streak also has given the Heat an excellent chance to make the playoffs for just the second time.

This season's turnaround is most evident in close games. At one point the Heat was 6-13 in games decided by fewer than nine points; its recent record in such games is 7-4.

Miami blew several double-digit leads early in the season, but not lately. The first three victories in the current streak were by an average margin of 29 points. Those wins all came on the road, where Miami is 18-12 _ best in the Eastern Conference. The team is 13-13 at home.

Around the league

Spurs: Dennis Rodman missed Friday night's game with the Los Angeles Clippers, even though the controversial forward insists he is innocent. "I did not head-butt John Stockton," Rodman said. "I'll admit to something if I did it, but I didn't do anything. If I tried to head-butt him, I would have been kicked out of the game right there."

Rodman was suspended without pay for one game and fined $5,000 for the incident, which occurred with 2:01 left in the fourth quarter of Utah's 106-96 victory over the Spurs Wednesday. "I don't see why they are always picking on me," Rodman said. "But I don't care and don't live for the NBA. It's a beautiful day."

Trail Blazers: Clifford Robinson and Rod Strickland were arrested after a pushing and shoving match with a truck driver in a downtown Chicago parking lot. The trouble apparently began with a minor traffic accident about 4 a.m., which led to an argument in a McDonald's parking lot, Chicago Police Lt. Patrick Logan said. Nobody was hurt. Strickland and Robinson were charged with simple battery, a misdemeanor, and released after posting $100 cash bond. They face an April 27 court date. "This is a total misunderstanding," Robinson said. "We were hungry. We wanted something to eat at McDonald's. A guy backed into us, and then the whole thing got blown out of proportion."

Hornets: Guard Rumeal Robinson says he was sent back to Charlotte from the West Coast because coach Allan Bristow has a personal vendetta against him. The Hornets said Robinson was sent home to recover from an Achilles' tendon injury. "I feel like the issue has become personal," Robinson told The Gaston Gazette in Los Angeles.

Bullets: It has taken him almost a decade, but former Seton Hall swingman Andrew Gaze will get a chance to play in the NBA. Gaze, 28, has signed a 10-day contract and will fly out of Australia on Monday. He said he hopes to make an impact, but has no thoughts of a long-term deal.

_ TIMES WIRES

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