Five takeaways from the Heat’s 115-89 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena:
1. The Heat snapped its three-game losing streak and stretched its lead to two games over Detroit for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference with its biggest blowout of the season.
It’s always nice when one of the league’s worst teams comes in banged up and on the second night of a back-to-back. It’s even better when the Heat actually show up and play like a team not taking that opportunity for granted – something they did against the Kings, Nets and Magic earlier this season.
Although Memphis shot well early (9 of 13 to start), the Heat’s defense clamped down from the second quarter on and got the job done.
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“I know what you guys are going to say ‘What’s it like to have a game that’s not that close?’ ” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We will take it. But we certainly weren’t expecting it the way things have been going. We expected this one to go down to the end. They’re in a totally different situation than we are in. They sat out most of their guys. But for us it’s still about building habits. I was pleased with the approach of our guys and even though they’re undermanned playing a lot of young guys, still building habits of holding them to 18 and 19 [points] in the third and fourth quarters respectively, it’s something we talked about and were able to do it so that was good to see.”
With 22 games to go – including a few more easy ones at home against the Lakers and Suns during this five-game homestand – the Heat (31-29) has to continue to take care of business like this and not find itself fighting for wins against lottery-bound teams.
“It’s kind of a relief a little bit,” said All-Star point guard Goran Dragic, who had six points (2 of 7 shooting), six rebounds and eight assists in 25 breezy minutes. “The last 17 games have been close games. Finally, we put together a great game where we were up 20 points. We’ve started the home stand well. Hopefully we’ll continue that Tuesday [against Philadelphia].”
2. Tyler Johnson scored a team-leading 23 points and is starting to look more like the guy before his ankle injury in Chicago Jan. 15.
Maybe it is just a coincedence, but the moment Johnson went down in a heap against the Bulls the Heat began its downward spiral – a stretch of 12 losses over 17 consecutive nip-and-tuck games. Saturday night, Johnson, who was a huge weapon off the bench last season, started off strong with 11 first quarter points and another nine in the third quarter. He got to the free throw line a career-high nine times.
“He was so aggressive – he was like a blur going to the rim,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the Tyler that we saw before the injury. He probably needed that All-Star break as much as anybody just to have those days off and let his body rest. He was aggressive [Friday] night too. He didn’t get to the rack as often, but you could see it was different. And the two practices we had before the New Orleans game looked very much like how he looked in training camp and before the injury.”
Johnson’s ability to get in the paint is huge for the Heat – especially with Dion Waiters out for the season. Waiters was the guy who complemented Dragic last season as a penetrator. Having two of those guys in the starting lineup again can do wonders for the Heat moving forward.
Johnson had 11 games of 20 points or more last season. This was his sixth this season and the first of 2018.
“I just had to take a long look at myself over the break – what was working, what wasn’t working,” said Johnson, who said a talk with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem on his way to Los Angeles for the All-Star game helped open his mind. “I think before the break I was just settling for too many jumpers, trying to shoot my way out of a funk instead of doing what I do best, which is being an attacker and getting other people involved.”
3. Shots finally started to fall for Justise Winslow after a rough month.
The Heat’s 2015 first round pick, who came into Saturday’s game with the worst shooting percentage in the league in February (13 of 52, 25 percent) among the 187 players with at least 50 field goal attempts, scored a season-high 17 points on 7 of 12 shooting including a pair of three-pointers.
“It’s probably important to him,” Spoelstra said of Winslow’s good shooting night. “He always still does make winning plays. It hasn’t been easy for him this year what we’ve asked of him. I can appreciate that, I can understand that. His role has changed probably more than anybody on that roster. He hasn’t made any excuses for it. I wouldn’t expect him to. He’s been a backup point guard, he’s been a backup three man, been a starting four, he’s been as starting three for us. He just wants to be out there and be able to help and contribute. I like it when he’s aggressive on the attack. His finishes were a lot better tonight and he’s really been working it. He did some nice things defensively as well.”
Winslow, who has had a rough go of it shooting since entering the league, scored 13 in the first half as he made five of his first seven shots.
His problems shooting this month have been on shots near the rim. He came in 9 of 26 shooting in the restricted area (34.6 percent) and 1 of 14 in the paint for the month. Winslow was not nearly that horrific in those areas before the start of February (55.9 percent in the restricted area and 31 percent in the paint).
What worked Saturday?
“I think just more touches in areas I could be successful,” he said. “I mean we didn't run anything differently. Today the ball was finding me.”
4. Josh Richardson continues to put up solid numbers on both ends of the court.
If you weren’t really paying attention to Saturday’s blowout you probably missed aother quality performance from the Heat’s third-year small forward. Johnson scored 15 points for the second consecutive night and had five steals for the second night in a row.
Richardson has at least one steal in nine straight games, tying the third longest streak of his career. He’s the only Heat player to play in all 60 games. The last Heat player to play in all 82 games in a season was Norris Cole (2013-14).
5. Whiteside ends night on right note.
Center Hassan Whiteside had 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots in nearly 26 minutes of action. More importantly, he finished the game strong in terms of effort.
Spoelstra lost his cool with Whiteside – and the Heat’s starters – in the first half when Memphis cut into Miami’s lead late in the second quarter. It got so intense assistant Chris Quinn came over to chat with Whiteside and patted him on the back.
After Whiteside had eight points, four rebounds and two blocks in a much more energetic third quarter, Spoelstra walked his way over the bench and made sure to show his center some love.