Five takeaways from the Heat’s 92-91 victory over the Lakers at Staples Center on Friday night:
1. The nine-game road losing streak is over and the Heat is headed home feeling a lot better after its loss to Sacramento on Wednesday.
It was a heart-pounding finish yet again, but without the sad ending. Miami completed its three-game West Coast trip on the right note thanks to 30 points from Goran Dragic and a missed shot late by Lakers guard Isaiah Thomas. Dragic hit a 10-foot floater with 15.2 seconds left and then the Heat (37-33) held on the defensive end with Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo both leaping to get a hand in Thomas’ face.
“We thought it was very fitting that this ended, this road trip, on a defensive stop at the end,” said coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team couldn’t protect a 110-106 lead against the Kings with under 30 seconds to play and lost in overtime Wednesday. “That’s all we talked about for the last 48 hours – we’re going to have to try to win this with our defense, that hopefully we would be in a similar situation as we were in Sacramento but be able to get the appropriate stop to get the win. And there were a couple of good plays, that Justise made and Bam made, that were different than the other night. Bam really came over to stop Thomas from getting another step close to the rim, a little bit different than the other night than Fox. So there were a lot of different, better things that guys were bringing to this competition. Certainly the loose balls, all of that we were regretting from the Sacramento game, but we had a chance to make amends for it tonight.”
With a loss Friday, the Heat would have had a road losing streak reach double digits in the same season for only the fifth time in franchise history (the longest streak was 18 games back in 1989). Instead, Miami heads home six games up on the Pistons (30-38) for the final playoff spot in the East with 12 games left on the schedule – and with eight of them at home.
Although the Heat is even in the standings with Milwaukee (36-32) and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Bucks are in seventh place in the East and ahead of Miami by percentage points. The Bucks play Saturday at home against the Atlanta Hawks (20-49) and then at Cleveland (39-29) Monday night when the Heat hosts Denver (38-31).
2. With Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside out again, Dragic continued his red-hot scoring ways and carried the offense yet again.
The 31-year-old All-Star, who matched a season-high with 33 points in Wednesday’s loss at Sacramento and scored 23 in the loss Monday at Portland, had 13 points in the opening quarter and 22 points by halftime on 7 of 10 shooting including four threes. His only bucket in the final quarter was the game-winner – his first with under 30 seconds to play in regulation or overtime in a Heat uniform.
“I got the rebound and I kind of pushed the tempo a little bit,” Dragic said of what happened on his go-ahead bucket. “Basically they didn’t cover the elbow, so it was a little bit more space. The only thing I was afraid [of was] that Spo was going to call a time out. I got inside the paint, I took the shot that I like, the ball went in.”
The Heat needed Dragic to carry the offense in the first half. At one point in the second quarter with the Heat ahead 34-30, Dragic, James Johnson, and Kelly Olylynk were a combined 10 of 14 from the field while Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder were a combined 2 of 21. Richardson, Ellington and Tyler Johnson did not make their first field goals until the second half.
Richardson (1 of 8, 4 points), Ellington (1 of 7, 4 points), Winslow (1 of 8, 2 points), and Tyler Johnson (3 of 10, 6 points) combined to shoot a dreadful 6 of 33 for 16 points. As a team, Miami shot 38.3 percent from the field. The Heat is 4-5 this season when it shoots under 40 percent.
3. The Heat once again didn’t have anybody who could slow Julius Randle down, but did a much better job defensively overall against the Lakers than it did in Miami earlier this month.
The Lakers, owners of the fastest-paced offense in the league, hit 16 three-pointers, shot 60 percent from the field and won at AmericanAirlines Arena with ease 131-113 back on March 1st. Friday night, the Heat held the Lakers to 42.1 percent shooting and only nine three-pointers.
Thomas, who scored a season-high 29 points and made six three-pointers in that Lakers win in Miami earlier this month, finished 1 of 9 shooting for five points on Friday. He had three of the Lakers’ 20 turnovers as Miami finished with 14 steals, one shy off the season-high of 15 against the Grizzlies.
“We came out with a sense of urgency,” James Johnson said. “We knew what we had to do, we knew what was on the line. When our backs are against the wall we’re always going to fight out of that.”
Randle, though, a 6-9, 250-pound power forward who scored 25 points in the Lakers’ blowout in Miami, took the ball right at James Johnson, Winslow and Olynyk in the post and often scored with ease in the first half, using his left hand to scoop and score. He had 16 points on 8 of 11 shooting by halftime and finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds in the losing effort.
The Heat’s record against teams ranked in the top eight in pace — the Lakers (1-1), Suns (2-0), Pelicans (0-2), Warriors (0-2), Sixers (2-2), Clippers (2-0), Nets (1-2) and Magic (2-2) — is now a combined 10-11.
4. Olynyk and Adebayo made a number of big plays for the Heat in the paint in the absence of Whiteside.
Olynyk finished with 17 points and five rebounds off the bench including three three-pointers. Adebayo had 11 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes. Miami outscored the Lakers 50-44 in the paint and allowed only seven second-chance points.
“We were just being active,” Adebayo said. “Coach said this game was going to come down to the last defensive stop, which it did. We just went out there and put the effort on the defensive end and it turned out good.”
Spoelstra left Adebayo and Olynyk on the floor together for most of the crunch time minutes in the fourth quarter.
“I think it makes it tough on guys on the offensive end when you [line up] like that,” Olynyk said. “We just went out to play big, just covered for each other, scrambled and did whatever it takes. For us it’s not who is on the court. It’s more [a matter] of at the end we have more points. That's the biggest thing for us. Now we get to go home with one [victory].”
5. Richardson returned to the starting lineup after a one-game absence because of a sore left foot and had trouble like many of his teammates putting the ball in the basket. But he contributed in other ways including four steals on defense.
“If you looked at J-Rich’s stat line, it would look like he didn't have a big impact in this game, but in the third quarter he was really active defensively and that started to inspire guys to make those kind of plays."
Wade (mild left hamstring strain), meanwhile, missed his third consecutive game and Whiteside (left hip flexor) missed his fourth straight game. Derrick Jones Jr., who was called up from the G-League on Friday, did not play. He has three NBA days left on his two-way contract.