When a team is four games under .500 in January, it’s the little things that make a coach disproportionately excited in ways most people can’t understand. For example, the Heat is back to defeating bad teams again.
The Heat’s second victory in three nights in Los Angeles was not aesthetically pleasing for basketball fans — especially ones spoiled from four seasons of watching Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh play with LeBron James — but for Miami coach Erik Spoelstra it was something to build upon. Spoelstra praised the Heat’s mental toughness after losing Wade to an injury and suffering through Bosh’s lowest scoring total of the season.
Two days after upsetting the better professional basketball team in Los Angeles, the Heat (17-21) salvaged a 78-75 victory against the Lakers late Tuesday night at Staples Center. The Heat had another late game on Wednesday against the Golden State Warriors, and Wade was expected to watch it from the bench after straining his left hamstring for the second time this season. Wade left Tuesday’s game against the Lakers in the first half and Bosh scored just eight points, but the Heat held the Lakers to 31.5 percent shooting and Kobe Bryant missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied it.
It was the Heat’s lowest scoring total in a win since 2010, but Spoelstra, despite the loss of Wade to a recurring hamstring injury, was excited about his team’s development. The Heat has adopted a new, methodical style of basketball out of necessity, and it’s working thanks in large part to the interior defense of centers Chris Andersen and Hassan Whiteside. After the victory against the Lakers, the Heat had accumulated 32 blocks in four games.
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“What was encouraging about it is it was exactly what we have been talking about the last couple games, embracing that lunch-pail, tough, defensive-minded, necessary efforts that we have to make,” Spoelstra said. “This might have been our toughest-minded win of the season. We were going through long stretches when we weren’t making shots, but that didn’t affect our defensive commitment at all throughout the course of the game.”
Coupled with Sunday’s victory against the Clippers, the Staples Center sweep gave the Heat back-to-back victories for the first time since the third week of November.
“It’s good, two in a row,” Bosh said. “It has been a while.”
Bosh had just two points in the second half and went 4 of 17 from the field overall. Third quarters have been smelly affairs for the Heat recently, and this one was no different. But the Heat mitigated an offensive meltdown by holding the Lakers to 19 points. The Heat was 7-of-18 shooting in the third for 17 points, with Bosh going 0 of 1 from the field with one rebound in nearly nine minutes.
With Bosh struggling and Wade watching the second half from the bench, Mario Chalmers took over offensively and scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half. He had back-to-back driving layups in the final two minutes of the game that gave the Heat a six-point lead. Bosh never found a rhythm, but his clutch jumper with 1:44 left gave the Heat a four-point edge.
A three-pointer by Bryant with 31 seconds left cut the Heat’s lead to three points after Chalmers’ layups. But Bryant missed an attempt from three-point range to tie the game with one second left. In his 19th season, Bryant rested consecutive games leading up to Tuesday’s matchup with Wade and the Heat.
Bryant and Wade embraced before the tipoff and exchanged pleasantries, but the competition on the court never materialized. The Heat jumped out to an 18-0 lead, and Wade then left the game in the second quarter after feeling tightness in his left hamstring. Meanwhile, Bryant had a poor shooting night. He was 1 of 12 from the field with three minutes left in the game. Bryant finished with 12 points, shooting 3 of 19.
“I think the best thing we did was penetrate, and coach keeps talking about it, we penetrated and put pressure on their defense and made them make a decision,” Wade said. “You saw early in the game their decision was to leave our bigs, and we lobbed it to them and they got dunks, and then later in the game they wouldn’t leave them and Mario Chalmers got some layups down there. That’s what you get when you put pressure on them early. It opens it up later.”
Luol Deng defended Bryant for much of the night after limiting Clippers guard Chris Paul on Sunday.
With Wade likely out for at least another week, the Heat will need more out of Deng, who was one of four Miami players to have at least eight rebounds. Whiteside led the Heat with nine rebounds off the bench. He also had 15 points, including three dunks in the Heat’s dominant first-quarter run. Andersen also played well, scoring 12 points to go with eight rebounds. Andersen and Whiteside combined for eight blocks, with Whiteside swatting five.
“I think everyone is bringing something to the table,” Deng said. “It’s just a great team effort the last two games, and we know we have a tough one [Wednesday], but now we’re starting to find out the way we want to play and who we want to be.”
With Wade injured during the middle of an important road trip, Bosh tried to remain upbeat before Wednesday’s game in Oakland. Wade missed seven games earlier this season, and the Heat went 3-4.
“Never get used to,” Bosh said of not having Wade. “You just go out there and play ball and go for a win. Of course, the game plan is going to change significantly with him out. We’re going to ask guys to step up. Not so much in scoring, but [Dwyane’s] playmaking ability and getting other guys involved. That’s very important for us.”