Five takeaways from the Heat’s 125-103 blowout of the Phoenix Suns on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena:
1. The Heat took care of business against an inferior opponent that plays with pace – something it has struggled with all season – and moved into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Miami’s next four games are going to be really tough: at Washington on Tuesday and then back home for Sixers on Thursday and Wizards Saturday before playing at Portland on March 12. All three of those teams are top six seeds in their respective conference.
So, it was important for coach Erik Spoelstra’s team to dispose of the lowly Suns, losers of 18 of their past 20 games and owners of the second-worst record in the league at 19-47, to climb to 34-30 and past the Milwaukee Bucks in the standings.
The Heat also did it without really having to sweat anything out in the second half. In fact, starters Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson sat the entire fourth quarter and only Justise Winslow played more than 26 minutes in the game (he played 31). So, Miami should have fresh legs Tuesday in a pivotal game.
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“Our focus was good, you could tell just from this morning, not that it wasn’t in some of these other games, but at least our approach, our mindset to understand the sense of urgency that was needed to close out this homestand,” said coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team hasn’t always had the right mindset against the worst teams in the league, going 4-6 against the likes of Atlanta, Brooklyn, Orlando and Sacramento this season.
“If you just don’t look at the names or records or anything, to go 4-1 on a homestand, that still is good. We took care of business. I commend the guys for a professional approach to it and now we have a good opportunity [Tuesday] night [in Washington].”
The Suns, who rank third in the league in pace, scored only six fastbreak points. Dragic, though, pointed out the Suns didn’t exactly push the pace after playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
“We need to be honest – they didn’t run tonight at all,” Dragic said. “I think they were tired, back to back for them. It didn’t feel like a high paced game but we played on our terms, especially defensively. Offense we could get anything that we want. Basically it was a perfect game for us.”
2. Hassan Whiteside finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes of work and finished plus 16 for the game. It was his fourth-highest scoring game of the season and only the 10th time this season he’s scored 20 or more points. Whiteside’s 15 third quarter points was the second-highest scoring quarter of his career.
For Whiteside, who pays attention to the boxscores and statlines, it was good for him to enjoy a game where he leads the team in points.
“It always feels good, at the end of the game, where you have the win and you play well,” Dwyane Wade said. “It wasn’t just his statistical numbers, but he was playing well. He really was engaged on the defensive end of the floor and that got him going offensively. So he did everything tonight, from being up on [Devin] Booker, who is a tough cover, getting back, rebounding, offensive rebounding, ducking in the post, shooting jumpers. He did it all.
“So I told him, I felt that this was the best game I’ve seen him play [since I left]. It’s not going to happen every night, but that Hassan right there is someone who is going to win a lot of games.”
3. Justise Winslow’s dunk on Marquese Chriss late in the game was the cherry on top of another solid performance. Winslow has started trending in the right direction over his last five games and his dunk on Chriss was the feel good moment for him.
“I give the dunk an 8, the celebration a 10. No, the celebration was a 9,” Josh Richardson said.
“It was nice. It’s not going in my top 10. But it definitely was nice,” Wade said. “It was sweet because we were talking about it before the game – how his hands were small. He was telling me I'm going to dunk one. I said ‘Don't worry about it.’ So it was cool to see him do that and kind of have that nice moment of a celebration at the end.
“He’s been playing well lately man. I love to see his aggressiveness out there on the floor. It’s really helping our team. Kudos to him.”
Winslow had 12 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals. He also had a pair of 17-point games over the homestand.
4. Luke Babbitt got the Wayne Ellington treatment and delivered the goods. Babbitt missed his first three three-point attempts, but stayed with it and knocked down his next four three-point attempts in the opening quarter. He finished with those 12 points in his second consecutive start. Spoelstra was happy he never lost confidence and kept firing away.
“I love the fact that he kept on shooting,” Spoelstra said. “He missed his first three threes and that’s a big test. Everyone on the bench is starting to lean forward, when he gets the next open one is he going to shot fake or is he going to let it rip.
“And we want him to keep on going. It’s a matter of percentages with him.. He is an exceptional shooter. Exceptional. We want to maximize that as much as possible and then eventually teams start to adjust and spacing becomes a big positive for us just because it will open up driving lanes. You have to let it fly to be able to do that. if he gets enough of them up there it’s like Wayne. You play the odds, you play the percentages, it’s going to be above 40 percent.”
Ellington missed his third straight game Monday with a bruised thigh. Tyler Johnson, meanwhile, returned from his thigh injury and scored five points in 18 minutes on 2 of 8 shooting.
5. Wade said there is a nice chemistry building between him and the Heat’s second unit – especially with Kelly Olynyk on the floor. Olynyk had 15 points and eight assists and is beginning to remind Wade of one the franchise’s all-time best players the way Spoelstra is using him.
“It looks kind of like Chris Bosh, when we used to play with CB [at the five],” Wade said. “We kind of spread the floor. He’s a good passer as well, it’s familiar from that standpoint.”
The Heat had 33 assists as a team – the team’s second-highest total this season. It’s the most assists the team has had at home since Feb. 26, 2013. Of those 33 assists, 20 came from the bench.