All that talk about the Heat going with a bigger lineup for the regular season, and then along came Saturday night.
With one of the smallest starting frontcourts it could possibly field, the Heat dominated the Utah Jazz at AmericanAirlines Arena in a way that openly laughed at convention. Chris Bosh missed the game with flu-like symptoms, so Miami featured three 6-8 forwards in its starting lineup and still defeated the proud Jazz 105-89.
The Heat (18-6) played without a center in the traditional sense of the position, starting LeBron James, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. Of course, loosely defined positions are a luxury no other team can enjoy quite like the Heat. After all, Miami is the only team with James on its roster.
He led the Heat with 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, dominating the game simultaneously as a small forward, power forward and point guard.
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“Our defensive commitment has been better,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who made sure to point out the overall rebounding numbers of both teams after the game. “Our starters have been able to set the tone for us, and when our bench comes in they ignite that unit. At least now we look like a Miami Heat basketball team.”
As Spoelstra noted with the opening statement of his postgame news conference, the Heat’s final rebound of the game — a garbage-time board by Dexter Pittman — gave Miami the rebounding edge 39-38. In the Heat’s last home game, Miami was outrebounded by the Timberwolves by 28.
“That one put us over the top,” said Spoelstra of Pittman’s rebound, joking and bragging at the same time.
The Heat has won four consecutive games and has held its past seven opponents under 100 points.
The Heat’s renewed effort on the defensive end comes right before the team’s most publicized game of the season, the Christmas Day matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-5).
“Do we play them on Tuesday?” Spoelstra joked. “Christmas?”
It would have been easy for the Heat to look past the Jazz, but the loss of Bosh helped galvanize the starting unit and the bench. Seven players had at least three points for the Heat in the first quarter.
“We feel like we’re playing Miami Heat basketball,” Dwyane Wade said. “But we still got some work to do, and that’s a good thing for this team.”
James’ three-pointer with 1:02 left in the game put the Heat ahead by 20 points.
It was his only three-point attempt of the game. Overall, James was 11 of 20 from the field, and the Heat shot 52.1 percent Saturday night. Miami was 11 of 24 from three-point range.
Battier started for Bosh and was 4 of 8 from three-point range in a 15-point effort. Haslem had six points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes.
“U.D. and Shane, while they’re only 6-8, what they have right here in their chests makes up for any lack of height,” Spoelstra said.
Utah hung close until starting guard Mo Williams left the game at halftime with an injured thumb. The Jazz was lost without him, and the Heat quickly built a 20-point lead. Miami led 73-63 entering the fourth quarter.
Wade, who has been one of the most efficient and explosive players in the NBA over the past seven games, was 8 of 14 from the field for 21 points. He also had seven assists and seven rebounds.
Wade is shooting more than 63 percent in his past seven games.
Marvin Williams led the Jazz (14-14) with 16 points. Utah shot just 41.1 percent.
The Heat has held its past four opponents to less than 42 percent shooting. Miami also forced 20 turnovers for the third consecutive game.
Eight different players had steals for the Heat, with Wade, Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Norris Cole accounting for two each.
“We needed everyone to just stay up [Saturday night],” James said. “Then everything kind of took care of itself.”