When the Miami Heat came home from its 1-5 West Coast trip at 11-30 two weeks ago, coaches and players weren’t panicking or quitting on the season. Instead, they saw what the rest of us couldn’t — improvement and wins on the horizon.
“We knew we would turn the corner if we continued to get better and better,” guard Wayne Ellington said Monday afternoon. “And it changed for us. We know that in the East you’re always just a few games away. If you catch your stride, you can be right in contention really fast. So, that’s what we did. We continued to chip away. And we’re still chipping.”
The Heat won its eighth game in a row Monday night, holding on to beat the Brooklyn Nets 104-96 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The formula was the usual: relentless defense, a few timely blocks from Hassan Whiteside and plenty of Goran Dragic (20 points, eight assists, three steals) and Dion Waiters (19 points, six rebounds and nine assists).
The Heat (19-30) held Brooklyn to 42.5 percent shooting and had five scorers finish in double figures. Before he fouled out for only the second time this season, Whiteside had 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
Rodney McGruder added 13 points, and James Johnson had 17 points, four rebounds, five assists and three blocks — not to mention agame-sealing tip-in dunk with under a minute left.
“He's a natural freak man,” Dragic said of Johnson, who tweaked his shoulder moments later but said afterward it was just “a light stinger.”
The Nets (9-39) led 50-39 with 3:42 left in the first half when the Heat went on a 17-0 run. Waiters and Whiteside were at the center of it with Whiteside blocking two shots that Waiters cashed in on the other end with back-to-back threes.
“We went on a 17-0 run? I didn’t even know to be honest with you,” Waiters said. “Anytime Whitey is dominating like that, it give us a way better chance to win game and get out and run, where we’re more dangerous at. We need that every night, man. We expect that from him to dominate on that glass and change the game with blocks and things like that. That’s what guys are doing.”
Up 56-52 at the half, the Heat extended its lead to 13 points midway through the third quarter before Brooklyn battled back to make it tight in the fourth quarter.
“You do have to credit Brooklyn,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They play at a frantic pace. Whether it’s a miss or a make, they put a tremendous amount of pressure on you. They had us on our heels really in both games, but in the second quarter we just committed to making possession saving plays, the imprint plays you remember the next day.
“Hassan had a big one. Guys did a tremendous job making multiple efforts, which was required. It took a little bit of pressure of our offense. It's inspiring when we play that kind of collective intensity. Now, we just have to figure out how to get consistent with it.”
▪ Tyler Johnson, who had missed five consecutive games with a strained left shoulder, played 19 minutes off the bench. He struggled, finishing 1 of 7 from the field with three points.
▪ Luke Babbitt, who started 15 of the last 16 games for the Heat at forward, left Monday’s game with 9:48 left in the third quarter with a right ankle injury. Babbitt asked out shortly after he and McGruder collided going after a defensive rebound.