After putting together arguably its best defensive night with its worst on the offensive end at Golden State, the Miami Heat switched gears Wednesday night at Talking Stick Arena and just blew past the Suns.
Behind a season-high 29 points, nine rebounds and four assists from Goran Dragic, and 23 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks from Hassan Whiteside, the Heat led wire-to-wire against Phoenix and rolled to a 126-115 victory.
“You could just see a positive energy from the get-go,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re scratching and crawling on this road trip, 2-2 and you just have to keep plugging away. We expected this game to be tough. [The Suns] come at you fast, they really do. So now this is two games where we’ve given up [big points in transition]. We were doing such a great job, but these last two, controlling teams in transition [were not good]. They were just flying by us, so we had to make enough defensive stops, got some good buckets going down the stretch to seal the win.”
Miami’s 126 points and 53.1 percent shooting percentage were season highs – and came on the heels of an 80-point performance and 36.1 percent shooting night Monday against the defending champions.
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The Heat, which came in 27th in the league in scoring (101.2 points per game), had seven players score in double figures, tying its season-high in the opener at Orlando. Dragic, now 5-1 against his former team, was clearly motivated to shine against the Suns.
“You always want to do good against your former team, but it was a good game,” Dragic said. “I felt great. Like I said, those rims are familiar so it’s nice to come out with the win.”
The game was never really in doubt. Phoenix (4-8) trimmed the Heat's lead to as little as six on a Devin Booker jumper with 2:53 left in the fourth quarter, but got no closer than that the rest of the way. Booker finished with 30 points on 9-of-23 shooting as Phoenix shot 45.5 percent as a team.
Miami (5-6) took control early. The Suns missed their first five shots and the Heat jumped out to a 12-2 lead, eventually stretching that lead to as many as 16 points in the first half.
Dragic punished his former team with 17 points over the first two quarters on 6-of-9 shooting and Miami made 9 of its first 17 three-point attempts, scoring a season-high 69 points in the first half despite nine turnovers.
The plan coming in was to simplify the offense, Spoelstra said pregame, his way of making sure the Heat cut down on turnovers and played in its “strength zones.”
Miami turned it over 15 times, below its season average of 17.1 per game coming in, which ranked 28th in the league.
With Tyler Johnson (illness) out for the first time this season and Dion Waiters back in the lineup after a two-game absence to attend the birth of his daughter back home in Miami, Spoelstra unveiled his sixth different starting lineup of the season with Winslow at power forward for the first time.
Winslow thrived in his new role, showing the kind of swiss-army-knife skills the Heat saw in him when they drafted him with the 10th pick in the 2015 draft. He finished with a season-high 14 points (5-of-11 shooting), six rebounds and five assists in 37 minutes.
Whiteside, who was benched for most of the second half of Monday’s loss, had his signature moment with 4:56 to play in the first half when Mike James (6-1, 195) tried to dunk on the Heat's 7-footer, who promptly swatted his attempt and gave the Suns point guard a stare down.
“I didn’t know he [had that],” Whiteside said. “He just jumped up and put some force behind that dunk. I ain't know he could dunk like that. But I just go up, challenge anyone at the rim. He tried man and he's definitely got some heart for trying. Not too many guys will try that."