Postscripts, thoughts and reaction from the Heat’s 108-96 opening night win in Orlando:
• This second half served up so many encouraging snapshots – one after another – suggesting this team not only will be interesting, but perhaps much better than people expect.
There was Hassan Whiteside disrupting at one end, dunking at the other. There was Dion Waiters penetrating essentially any time he pleased and setting up Whiteside and others for easy baskets.
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There was starting power forward Luke Babbitt sinking two open threes, created off swift ball movement. There was Justise Winslow serving the role of primary ball-handler and creator, at times, and capably setting up teammates while filling the box score.
There were unrelenting attacks on the rim, leaving the Magic on their heels, and a barrage of points in the paint (74 of them).
There was splendid work off the bench from Tyler Johnson, Willie Reed, and James Johnson, and evidence that the moment wasn’t too big for Rodney McGruder, the Heat’s only rookie.
There was the calming influence, and two late key baskets, from Goran Dragic, who must love having teammates who are able to play at his pace.
A 37-16 run to start the second half turned a three-point halftime deficit into an 87-69 lead.
• Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, afterward, via Fox Sports Sun: “I liked it. A lot of emotions in the first half; we were fouling and sending them to the line. That was frustrating, not able to dictate the game the way we wanted to. Then we responded with a big third quarter defensively. The energy, the effort, the toughness defensively was there… We want to be an attack team first.”
• Whiteside began the night with a dunk and ended it with a double-double, with 18 points (including six blocks), 14 rebounds and four blocks. The one glitch: 0 for 4 from the line; he said afterward that he would shoot 400 free throws.
But his defense after halftime was pivotal in that 30-16 Heat burst, with two of his blocks leading to a driving layup by Dragic and a dunk by Winslow.
“We need him to be great and he was that in the third quarter, really anchored our defense, and it ignited everybody else to be tougher on pick and rolls, to challenge a little more, knowing he was back there,” Spoelstra said. “He had to battle frustration in the first quarter, with a couple of fouls. He was enjoying the game, even when he was on the bench. He really impacted the win.”
Whiteside, afterward, via Fox Sports Sun: “A lot of guys are counting us out. These guys have edges to them. I’m excited. I love playing with these guys. These guys play with amazing energy. A lot of these guys are going to surprise a lot of people.”
• Tyler Johnson’s four-year, $50 million contract will end up being a very good deal, in today’s market, if he can consistently give the Heat the bench spark – and offense – that he delivered tonight, with 15 points (7 for 11 shooting), six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 27 impactful minutes.
He has clearly elevated his game, not surprising considering he’s very studious and diligent about his development.
“When I have the opportunity to watch for those first couple minutes and see what is needed and then bring my energy with that second unit, that's where I'm best served at this point in my career,” Johnson told Fox Sports Sun’s Jason Jackson.
Johnson said one key is that Spoelstra didn’t necessarily call time out when the team struggled at times in preseason, instead pushing them to communicate among themselves.
• Waiters’ numbers don’t jump out (9 points on 4 for 13 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), but this was a good night for Waiters as the Heat’s opening night shooting guard in Miami’s first year PW (post Wade).
He was a plus five in 33 minutes, committed only one turnover and created a bunch of opportunities with his forays to the hoop, including two Whiteside dunks in the third.
Waiters and Dragic worked well together, with Dragic closing with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists and three turnovers in 29 minutes.
• James Johnson’s defense and toughness aren’t surprising, but this is: His playmaking and ability to create off the dribble.
Johnson, who has averaged only 1.5 assists per game in his NBA career, had six, including two nifty dishes to Reed for baskets. A career 26.6 percent three-point shooter, he nailed two beyond the arc.
• Speaking of Reed… His game has evolved since he was a Heat summer camper in 2015. He closed with 10 points (5 for 6 shooting, including a nice hook shot), 6 rebounds, an assist and a block.
“Willie might be our most improved player since the first day of training camp,” Spoelstra said. “Really tried to simplify his game. Has really bought into his role.”
• Winslow had exactly the type of game that Miami gladly would take every night in his first year as a starter: 15 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and sound defense. He was 7 for 15 from the field, missing his only two threes.
“Keep attacking; that’s the kind of team we are,” Winslow told Fox Sports Sun’s Jason Jackson. “We started getting stops. That’s when the game changed.”
• Spoelstra played a nine-man rotation, meaning Derrick Williams went from starting in part of preseason to out of the rotation. Udonis Haslem didn’t play.
• With Wayne Ellington (contusion) and Josh Richardson (knee) sidelined, McGruder served as Miami’s ninth man and acquitted himself nicely, with six points and two steals.
And the Heat played well with McGruder on the floor; he was a plus 15 in 24 minutes. That tied Winslow for best plus/minus on the Heat tonight.
• You know what was also encouraging? Miami did this, winning on the road against a team with some talent, despite shooting 4 for 16 on threes.
Parltly because the Heat got into the paint so much, Miami finished at 48.5 percent overall from the field, with Orlando closing at 38.6.
• Josh McRoberts, who missed preseason with a foot injury, was in uniform but only would have played if the Heat needed him on a late-game inbounds pass, according to Heat TV voice Eric Reid.
• The Heat has won six straight season openers, the NBA’s longest-active streak.
• Spoelstra, who won his 400th career game, cracked: “I probably should have been fired probably three or four times before this point.”
• Please click here for our post this morning on how good this Heat team can be if its young nucleus develops as Miami hopes.