“It’s not exactly 2011,” Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said Thursday morning, acknowledging the diminished state of the Heat and Mavericks, six years after the teams met in the NBA Finals.
These days, Heat success is measured not in championships but in far more modest accomplishments, such as the two-game winning streak achieved Thursday night with Miami’s 99-95 victory against visiting Dallas.
It marked only the fourth time all season that the Heat has won two in a row and the first time since mid-December.
The Heat can thank Goran Dragic, who was brilliant. He scored 32 points on efficient 11-for-15 shooting, including 22 points in the second half, and added six rebounds.
Dragic made all four of his three-point attempts, including one with 2:18 left that put the Heat ahead by five.
“Offensively, this is the best he’s ever shot the ball from deep,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Just as important if not more important, he is able to really take advantage of the mid-range. He has worked so much on his game defensively [and is] communicating more as a leader on this team.
“This game means so much to Goran Dragic. When we lose, he doesn’t sleep. He takes it hard like a coach would. I get text messages with things he could have done better or differently. I tell him to go to bed.”
Carlisle said Dragic “got in the paint all night long. We just didn’t do a good job containing him. He scored, and he got other guys shots.”
Beyond Dragic, also credit Tyler Johnson, whose 23 points included a three that pushed the Heat’s lead to six with 1:41 left and two free throws that put Miami up five with 13 seconds remaining.
Johnson scored in double figures for the 14th consecutive game, two short of Chris Gatling’s franchise record for a Heat bench player.
“He just gives us a great scoring punch,” Spoelstra said.
Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki had a narrow edge over Hassan Whiteside in an intriguing center matchup of contrasting styles.
Whiteside scored the Heat’s first seven points but just six the rest of the way, closing with 13 points, eight rebounds, zero blocked shots and three turnovers. Nowitzki finished with 19 points and four rebounds.
“Our job on Whiteside was good, considering we’re playing smaller,” Carlisle said. “[But] the story of the game is the second half. They dominated the second half.”
The Heat outscored the Mavericks 55-42 after halftime.
Dion Waiters scored 12 points and Willie Reed (eight points) gave the Heat a boost during a 9-0 fourth-quarter run. James Johnson had a quiet night offensively (five points on 1-for-6 shooting) but helped with eight rebounds and four assists.
Miami remains mired well below .500 at 13-30, but the Heat can draw encouragement from its wins against Houston and Dallas to open a four-game homestead that continues with Milwaukee on Saturday and Golden State on Monday.
And Dragic has been at the epicenter.
“My head is clear,” he said. “I like my teammates. I’m working hard to be a better player and better teammate.”
Said Nowitzki of Dragic: “When he’s shooting like that, he’s got the in-between game. He’s got the drive-to-the-hoop and he’s tough.”
▪ Forward Okaro White, in day three of a 10-day contract, made his Heat debut with nine scoreless minutes, with Spoelstra opting to use him instead of veterans Derrick Williams or Udonis Haslem.
White said he felt “a little bit of nerves.”