Dwyane Wade encouraged his teammates to enjoy the victory, and Chris Bosh called it a “must win.”
A strange sense of relief floated through the Heat’s postgame locker room on Sunday evening after its first victory of 2015.
Defeating the Brooklyn Nets to snap a four-game losing streak wasn’t really a cause for celebration, but with a five-game trip beginning Thursday in Portland, the Heat’s leaders knew it was an important achievement all the same.
“Enjoy tonight, enjoy tomorrow and Tuesday we come back in and see how we can go on this West Coast trip and play differently than we’ve been playing,” Wade said after the game.
Say this for the remainder of this regular season: It’s never going to be boring.
The new calendar year is here for the Heat (15-20), and with it there is a new perspective on the regular season, apparently.
In eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings and losers of seven of its past 10 games, the Heat is simply focused on survival at this point.
“You’re searching for a win, searching for a win and then you finally get one against a team that has been playing very well lately in a place that we haven’t played well at home, unfortunately,” Wade said. “It was a good team win.”
The Heat didn’t break 90 points against the Nets, but that number was secondary in importance to the defensive benchmarks. The Nets shot just 39.5 percent from the field, marking only the fifth time all season the Heat has held an opponent to under 40 percent shooting.
For the season, opponents are shooting 47 percent from the field against the Heat, which ranks 28th in the league behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
For one night at least, there were some positive signs that coach Erik Spoelstra’s necessary adjustments for this first season without LeBron James were beginning to translate into a viable defense. Of course, the Heat lost by 36 points the night before in Houston, so it’s probably too early to declare anything fixed at this point.
After Saturday’s blowout loss, Bosh challenged his teammates to “just get a win by any means necessary.”
“It didn’t matter who we played,” Bosh said. “Our mentality was get the job done. Guard your man, guard the ball, play together and have some intensity out there.”
It was difficult to watch at times — the Heat scored just 15 points in the third quarter — but the team rallied around newcomer Hassan Whiteside in that period, too, so what before might have discouraged the team actually felt in many ways like a net gain. Entering the game against the Nets, the Heat was last in the league in third-quarter scoring.
“Our bigs did a great job protecting the rim, and we were making some extra passes that led to some great things,” Bosh said. “Guys were being aggressive and that worked out for us.”
At one point in the third quarter, Whiteside was the team’s leader in scoring with nine points. He finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds (a season high) and five blocks (a career high).
“He’s learning the game,” Wade said. “Every time he steps out there you can see him get more comfortable, and I think as teammates we’re a lot more confident, especially on the defensive end, when he’s in there. He’s big for us. I’m happy for him. He is getting his opportunity, and he’s really doing a great job with it.”
Extended minutes for Whiteside is the latest experiment for this trail-and-error season, and the 7-footer will be tested over the next two weeks against players such as LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers, DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento. Whiteside struggled against Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets on Saturday, but returned with a message for his teammates.
“I told the guards to just believe in me,” Whiteside said. “It might not look like I’m there, but I’m there. I got your back.”