Shorthanded since its season-opener, it’s been hard to gauge the Miami Heat through its first six games.
And even though Hassan Whiteside returned to the court on Wednesday night, the Heat still didn’t play as well as it hoped against the lowly Bulls.
But led by Goran Dragic and a big second-half lift from Tyler Johnson off the bench the Heat overcame some poor stretches in the second and third quarters to beat the Bulls 97-91 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“It was good to finally get a result after all the work these guys have been putting in,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They’ve been trying to get better, trying to get on the same page, trying to get a game that’s just getting a little bit closer to our identity. I liked all the emotions we had to go through.”
Dragic, who has been fighting an illness over the past couple of days, finished with 20 points, six assists and five rebounds.
“It was a roller coaster game for us,” Dragic said. “We opened the game well. The third quarter we kind of let them back into the game. We’re happy how we bounced back. At the end of the game they were shooting 40 percent. They scored 91. So this is what we want in every game. We’re happy with the win. It’s kind of a confidence boost before a long road trip.”
Johnson finished with 19 points with 17 coming in the second half, and hit three three-pointers to help the Heat (3-4) erase a six-point third quarter deficit after Miami led by as many as 15 in the first half.
“I thought it shifted for him when he started to make some defensive plays,” Spoelstra said. “We see it all the time. The ball finds energy, well the ball feels energy too and sometimes it can feel your energy just on the defensive end and all of a sudden the ball just shifts and goes the other way and all of a sudden you’re wide open for a couple of easy ones to get your rhythm going. He was very good tonight.”
Whiteside played for the first time since the Heat’s season-opener in Orlando on Oct. 18 ending an absence of five games due to a left knee bone bruise and finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Whiteside played 26 minutes and did most of his damage in the first half recording a double double (11 points and 12 rebounds) by the time he dropped in a hook shot with 3:39 left in the second quarter.
“It was different, because it had been such a long time since I played five-on-five, but I felt like I contributed in the best I would out there,” Whiteside said.
James Johnson was a late scratch from the lineup due to right knee tendinitis.
Johnson played only 24 minutes and went 0 for 3 shooting on Monday in the Heat’s 125-122 overtime loss to the T’Wolves. Johnson, who was averaging 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 27.8 minutes per game, had started the past five games.
Spoelstra said he wasn’t very concerned and that the move was more precautionary to avoid a long-term issue.
Okaro White made his first career start in his place and finished three points and four rebounds.
“I’m not too concerned,” Johnson said. “It flared up. I had it for a while. Um, I wasn't able to go as hard as I can, and that's not fair to my teammates, so I had to take a knee today."