Miami Heat

Five takeaways from Heat-Blazers: Defense and sharp late-game execution is the winning formula

Goran Dragić on Heat’s win over Trail Blazers: “We just exploded”

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragić talks to the media about his team's 120 to 111 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, October 28, 2019.
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Miami Heat guard Goran Dragić talks to the media about his team's 120 to 111 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, October 28, 2019.

Here are five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 120-111 win over the Portland Trail Blazers (3-2) on Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

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1. The Heat’s defense was really good, and so was its late-game execution. Good enough to bounce back after allowing a 19-point lead slip away, as the Blazers rallied to take a three-point lead with 3:07 to play. But the Heat (3-2) closed on a 17-5 run over the final 2:48 to hold on for the victory.

Miami’s late-game play was nearly perfect, making each of its five shots (including four threes) during that stretch. Goran Dragic scored 10 of his team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. Portland shot just 2 of 6 over the final 2:48, as the Heat finished off a strong defensive performance.

Late-game execution will be important for Miami, considering it’s already found itself in four clutch games — defined by the NBA as a game that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter — this season after playing in a league-high 53 clutch games last season.

“Probably last year, we would have lost this game, but we feel like mentally we are more stable,” Dragic said. “We know Spo was talking before the game that they’re going to make their runs. We just needed to stick with our game plan and we did. It was a big run on their part, especially late when they took the lead, but we stayed composed. We talked. And we executed our plan.”

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media about his teams’ 120 to 111 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, October 28, 2018.

For the game, Miami limited a hot Portland offense to a season-low 111 points on 42 percent shooting. To put those numbers into context, the Trail Blazers entered with the league’s second-best offensive rating, averaging 125.3 points and had surpassed the 120-point mark in each of its first four games. So, yes, the Heat’s defense was good Saturday.

The Trail Blazers’ two best players, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, combined for 61 points. Lillard accounted for most of that, though, with 42 points. McCollum scored 19 on 7 of 20 shooting.

Through the first five games, the Heat’s defense has posted the league’s fifth-best defensive rating (allowing 103.1 points per 100 possessions).

“Guys really stepped up tonight,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Even giving up 111 points, it sounds funny, but our defensive efforts and commitment on that side of the floor against two really dynamic playmakers, I thought was very good.”

2. One of the most impressive parts of the Heat’s win was its rebounding. Miami and Portland entered as two of the league’s top rebounding teams, with the Heat averaging the third-most rebounds per game (51.8) and the Trail Blazers averaging the second-most (53.5). But Miami won the rebounding battle Saturday, 56-42, and turned that advantage to a 24-12 edge in second-chance points.

Hassan Whiteside played a big role in that effort with a game-high 16 rebounds, but perimeter players like Rodney McGruder (10 rebounds), Josh Richardson (5) and Justise Winslow (5) also helped out. Portland center Jusuf Nurkic, who entered averaging 4.4 offensive rebounds per game, was held to just one offensive rebound Saturday.

“It was an emphasis for me and my teammates to just not let [Nurkic] get the offensive rebounds,” Whiteside said.

3. This season is about moments for Dwyane Wade, and he had one in the first half against Portland. The future Hall of Famer recorded 18 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the field and 4 of 5 shooting on three-pointers over the first two quarters, and finished the game with 19 points. Wade, 36, can’t do this every night at this stage of his career, but Saturday was proof that he still has these types of spurts in him.

Before Saturday, it had been an inefficient start to Wade’s final NBA season. He entered averaging 11.5 points on 38.8 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent shooting from three-point range. But Wade’s shooting performance against Portland will help lift all of those numbers.

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) talks to the media about his teams’ 120 to 111 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, October 28, 2019.

And one thing to keep an eye on with Wade is his three-point shooting. He’s taking the shot more than ever to start this season, averaging 3.6 three-point attempts through the first five games. His career-high for a season is 3.5 per game, which came with the Heat in 2008-09.

“He’s been working on that, so I think the scouting report will remain the same against him,” Spoelstra said of Wade’s three-point shooting. “But I think he’s going to make teams pay, particularly when he’s in rhythm and he’s wide open and people aren’t closing out to him.”

4. The Heat is getting healthier, which means the rotation decisions are getting tougher for Spoelstra. Wayne Ellington (sore left ankle) and Justise Winslow (hamstring tightness) were available Saturday after missing the first four games with injuries. Derrick Jones Jr. was also in uniform after missing Wednesday’s win over the Knicks with a foot injury.

Even with James Johnson (sports hernia surgery) and Dion Waiters (left ankle surgery) still out, there are still 11 rotation-level players on the Heat’s roster competing for playing time with Ellington, Jones and Winslow back. In Spoelstra’s first game with more options, he used nine players against Portland. Ellington and Jones were the two left out of the rotation.

In his season debut, Winslow finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three steals in 19 minutes.

“Just wasn’t enough minutes tonight,” Spoelstra said when asked about his decision to keep Ellington and Jones on the bench. “But Wayne has been through this before. Two years ago, he was out for more than six weeks and he found his way back in. It’s still early on. But I love the fact that he’s back in uniform. I know how much he’s been chomping at the bit to get back and be available. So, that’s a great step and then same with D. Jones, that he only had to miss one game.”

5. Whiteside didn’t have a big scoring night, but he still made an impact. In fact, Whiteside struggled to score with five points on 2 of 8 shooting. But he still managed to contribute with 16 rebounds and six blocks.

“He even mentioned it to me right before I walked in here [for the postgame interview],” Spoelstra said of Whiteside. “He mentioned that he was just trying to do whatever he could to put his fingerprints on this win. And down the stretch, that was a couple big contests to force some misses and a couple big rebounds. And even the offensive rebound. That’s winning basketball.

“Sometimes the ball is not going to come your way all the time, and sometimes it’s not going to go necessarily how you want it to. You still have an opportunity to impact winning, and he did that.”

Whiteside is averaging 11.8 points, 14.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks this season.

More importantly, the Heat has been a better team with Whiteside on the court. Miami has outscored opponents by 48 points with the 7-footer playing. That’s a big improvement from last season, when the Heat was outscored by 79 points with Whiteside on the court.

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