The Miami Heat put an end to its six-game losing streak on Thursday night with an emphatic 96-73 blowout of the Milwaukee Bucks at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat (3-8) closed the game on a 25-4 run, putting on a defensive clinic in the process. Hassan Whiteside had 12 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks to lead the charge as the Bucks (5-6) shot 32.9 percent from the field, the third-worst shooting night by any team in the league this season.
Milwaukee, which came in leading the league in points in the paint with 49.6 per game, was outscored 54-34 in the paint by the Heat. Whiteside was the primary reason.
“There’s two different kind of coaches and teams: coaches that say, ‘Hassan Whiteside is down there, don’t attack them,’ and then there’s coaches that say, ‘Hassan Whiteside is down there, let’s attack him,’ ” said Whiteside, who played only 7 minutes and 32 seconds in the first half because of foul trouble and posted five of his blocks in the fourth quarter.
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“God bless those teams,” Whiteside continued. “Long live those teams. I need more of those teams.”
Goran Dragic returned to the Heat’s starting lineup after missing three games with a sprained left ankle and struggled through the first three quarters, saying he felt “rusty.” But the point guard found his legs in the fourth, scoring 11 of his 16 points in the final period and finishing with six rebounds and four assists.
Backcourt mate Dion Waiters, meanwhile, scored 23 points on 10-of-22 shooting and had seven rebounds and four assists, often taking it to the basket and drawing fouls, something he hadn’t been able to do very often through Miami’s first 10 games.
Waiters said he also asked coach Erik Spoelstra to cover both 6-11 forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and 6-8, 250-pound Jabari Parker at various points throughout the night. The Bucks’ front-court duo combined for only 25 points on 10-of-35 shooting.
Josh Richardson, who stayed in the starting lineup as part of Miami’s three-guard lineup with Justise Winslow (sprained left wrist) out for the second consecutive game, had 18 points and made four three-pointers. The Heat finished 7 of 30 from beyond the arc.
“We talked about we just had to continue to find a way to do more,” Spoelstra said. “We shot 41 percent again. Maybe that means a team coming in here on the second night of a back-to-back, that we have to hold them way down. This is what we were really hoping to do on some of our other back-to-backs when teams were coming in here — that we would be able to wear on them, particularly in the fourth quarter.”
Miami missed 15 of its first 18 shots and trailed 20-6 after a Parker dunk with 5:09 left in the first quarter. But the Heat answered with a 24-7 run and went into the half tied at 48.
James Johnson and Tyler Johnson led Miami’s bench, combining for 17 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists, and helping the Heat climb out of its early hole.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” said James Johnson, who like Tyler Johnson has become a consistent force off the bench for the Heat. “That’s what the reserves are for — bring energy, sustain the lead or come back from any deficit. I think we did our job today.”
Miami opened the second half on a 9-2 run and stretched its lead to as many as 11 points in the third quarter. The Heat, which is now 3-1 when entering the fourth quarter with a lead, entered Thursday’s game with an 0-7 record when tied or trailing entering the final period.
The Heat plays its next four games on the road, beginning in Washington on Saturday, and will be away from home for 10 of its next 13 games overall.
“It’s good to have a little bit of momentum,” Tyler Johnson said. “We’ve been so close. I think we’ve actually played a lot better on the road because we know that we don’t have home-court advantage.”
▪ The Heat stuck around at halftime and watched guard Rodney McGruder and assistants Dan Craig and Octavio de la Grana receive the NBA D-League championship rings they earned last season with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
“I felt like I was getting a ring,” Richardson said. “I played for the Sioux for a couple games [last year], but we’ll talk about that later. I was really happy for [McGruder]. We watched the D-League playoffs when we were in the playoffs in Charlotte. I sat in the room with Tyler and I think Briante [Weber] was there, too, and we watched them win the championship. We called him after the game.”