It used to be that Erik Spoelstra didn’t want the Heat to pay any attention to “the noise.”
He wanted his team to deflect it.
But with this Heat team, hearing all the negativity about how bad they’re supposed to be could end up serving them well.
On Wednesday night, the rag-tag collection of journeymen and misfits that Pat Riley signed this summer after Dwyane Wade left for Chicago — or the refugees, as Justise Winslow likes to call them — came together with the team Wade left behind and made an opening-night statement, plowing the Magic 108-96 at the Amway Center.
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On a night when the Heat’s three-point shots weren’t falling (4 of 16), Miami flashed speed, athleticism and plenty of grit, scoring a whopping 74 points in the paint while holding Orlando to 37.9 percent shooting.
“It’s not about [me] trying to make a statement or anything,” said center Hassan Whiteside, who after signing a four-year, $98 million deal this summer led six Heat scorers in double figures with 18 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in 31 minutes.
“I’m coming out here and just playing. My teammates made it easy for me, and we just played as a team. We’re coming out here with a chip on our shoulder. A lot of guys are counting us out. These guys have an edge to them. I’m excited.”
With every dunk, every block and every extra pass, the Heat, pegged to win about 30-something games, showed great emotion on its bench, with players standing and celebrating every moment as if this were already the playoffs.
“We just enjoyed each other’s success,” said Tyler Johnson, who came off the bench and had 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 28 minutes and plenty of highlight-reel dunks.
“We actually enjoy being around each other. It makes a difference when you know you have people who have your back on the bench and you’re not looking over your shoulder thinking people are trying to take your spot. They actually want you to be successful.”
The Heat bench overall was impressive, finishing with 25 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists combined. Backup center Willie Reed, whom Spoelstra called the most improved player since camp began, had 10 points, six rebounds and a block in 17 minutes.
Rodney McGruder played 24 minutes in his NBA debut and had six points, finishing a team-best plus-15 in the plus-minus ratio. And power forward James Johnson had 11 points and six assists in 25 minutes.
“There was a ton of emotion,” Spoelstra said. “Guys were really anxious and eager to play this game after a month of training camp. A lot of emotions in the first half were fouling and sending them to the free-throw line. That was frustrating our guys, not being able to dictate the game we wanted to do.
“But I liked going through all of that. We responded with the big third quarter defensively. The energy, the effort, the toughness was there.”
The most impressive stretch for the Heat came in the first minute of the fourth quarter when Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Reed opened the period with three consecutive thunderous dunks.
Winslow, who finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks, blew past his defender and threw down a vicious left-handed dunk and then stared into the crowd.
Moments later, Johnson elevated and dunked over 6-9, 255-pound Magic forward Jeff Green, drawing a foul in the process. Johnson hung on the rim to celebrate it.
The series of dunks ended with Reed soaring for a pass from Johnson for an alley-oop slam. Just like that, the Heat had extended its lead to 18.
“That’s their game — they’re a hard-driving team,” Magic coach Frank Vogel said. “That’s their answer to not having [Chris] Bosh and Wade, to play a lot of small guys and try to speed it up in the paint and force help and take advantage of Whiteside on read and dump of passes. They’re going to be a tough team to guard.”
Trailing 53-50 at the half, Miami came out in the second half and quickly turned the tables on the Magic, outscoring Orlando 30-16 in the third quarter to take a double-digit lead into the fourth. It started with Whiteside’s defense and led to quick offense on the other end behind Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters.
Dragic finished with 16 points, six rebounds and six assists, but he played only 29 minutes and dealt with foul trouble. Still, the Heat did just fine without him running the point.
Waiters, who finished with nine points, six rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes, established a rewarding connection a trio of times with Whiteside. Then, when he was on the bench, the Heat turned to Johnson and Winslow to handle the point-guard distribution duties.
The Heat, which beat the Magic for the 16th time in their past 18 meetings, finished with 27 assists on its 47 baskets.
“They have guards that are really hard to contain and want to go to the rack,” said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who led Orlando with 20 points. “It was not easy.”
On the opposite end, the Magic couldn’t score inside, finishing 18 of 51 inside the paint for 36 points. Vogel credited Whiteside.
“He’s a dominant force in there,” Vogel said.
▪ Prior to Wednesday night’s game, the Magic held a ceremony to remember and honor the 49 victims and the first-responders of the Pulse nightclub shooting in June, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
A series of tributes began with a No. 49 banner — inscribed with each of the names of the victims — being raised to the rafters before a moment of silence was held. A video highlighting the community’s unity following the shooting was then shown on the big screen.
Survivors of the shooting, family members of the victims and Pulse employees were on hand as guests of the Magic.