Sometimes the only remedy for a struggling team is an opponent headed in the same direction or worse.
The injury-riddled Miami Heat, playing with only nine healthy players for the second game in a row, served that purpose for the Hawks on Wednesday night. Playing in an arena with plenty of empty seats, Atlanta put an end to its seven-game slide and run of 10 losses in its previous 11 games by doing just enough to get past Miami 103-95 at Philips Arena.
Tyler Johnson poured in a career-high 27 points and helped the Heat (7-15) trim what had been a 15-point Hawks’ lead entering the fourth quarter to as little as 83-80 on a pair of Goran Dragic free throws with 7:06 remaining.
But Atlanta (11-12) dominated Miami in the paint 58-26 and did a good job neutralizing center Hassan Whiteside, who often faced double- and triple-teams when he touched the ball near the basket. Whiteside had just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting and finished with 12 rebounds and one block in 36 minutes.
“When I got the ball, their whole team was in the paint,” said Whiteside, who pointed to the 32 offensive rebounds and 53 second-chance points the Knicks and Hawks combined for on consecutive nights as the primary reasons why the Heat lost its past two games.
“We’ve got to box guys out on offensive rebounds when I go for the block,” he continued. “But guys are trying their best, man. Guys are like 6-2 trying to box out Dwight [Howard]. We’re working with what we’ve got right now. I’ll go to war with these guys any day. Guys are giving their all right now. I’m proud of them guys. They’re doing their best, and I’m proud of them.”
Dragic, still feeling some effects of a stinger in his left shoulder from Tuesday night’s loss at home to the Knicks, added 21 points and four assists in 35 minutes, and Wayne Ellington chipped in with 19 points.
Miami made 11 of its 27 three-point attempts but was outrebounded 47-34.
Howard had 23 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks to lead the Hawks, who also got 21 points, nine rebounds and three blocks from Paul Millsap.
“We had an opportunity at 83-80 with just a handful of minutes to go and then bang, bang, bang. They scored each possession,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They made plays, so you have to give them credit. They ran the 1-4 pick-and-roll at the end, and we didn’t have an answer for it. [Point guard Dennis] Schroder was able to either turn the corner and make plays or just throw back to Millsap and make some plays. We couldn’t get our hands on that, but we had our opportunities. Our guys earned their ice again tonight.”
The Heat, which has been using assistant coaches Chris Quinn and Juwan Howard to serve as the 10th player on the floor in practices and shootarounds, could have another player sidelined by injury by the time it lines up to face the world champion Cavaliers in Cleveland on Friday night.
Rookie swingman Rodney McGruder, who started for the ninth time, twisted his left ankle late in the first half and limped his way up and down the court the rest of the game. McGruder played 31 minutes and had 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. But he sat on the bench for most of the fourth quarter.
“I’m good,” McGruder insisted after the game as he had his ankle inside a bucket full of ice. “By Friday I’ll be good. It was a little sore, it was. But I’m good. It’s something I’ve played through before.”
The NBA requires teams to suit up at least eight healthy players per game.
The Heat had already announced injured players Justise Winslow (wrist), Dion Waiters (groin), James Johnson (rotator cuff), Josh Richardson (ankle) and Luke Babbitt (hip flexor) would not be on this trip, which ends Saturday in Chicago. But asked if he might call on a player back in Miami if needed, Spoelstra didn’t rule it out.
“It all depends on how [Thursday] goes,” Spoelstra said. “I’m not sure if any one of them is ready for that next step. But they’re putting in a lot of work. That’s twice a day, six and seven hours of work. So they’re putting in the time to try to be there for their brothers. When any one of them is ready for 10-12 minutes, we can use them. But that’s based on their progress and how their bodies are feeling.”