Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 102-100 win over the Utah Jazz (11-13) on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
1. Free throws are still an issue for Hassan Whiteside, but that didn’t stop him from turning in one of his best all-around performances of the season Sunday. The Heat’s starting center finished with 23 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks in 34 minutes.
That’s good news for the Heat (9-13) because Whiteside has been quiet recently. He entered averaging 10.8 points and 8.3 rebounds over the past four games, and did not play a single second in the fourth quarter of any of those games. Instead, coach Erik Spoelstra has opted to play reserve centers Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk over Whiteside down the stretch.
But Whiteside’s forceful play Sunday was rewarded with actual fourth-quarter playing time, as he scored two and grabbed six rebounds in 10:27 during the period. Spoelstra used the frontcourt combination of Olynyk and Whiteside for most of the fourth.
“Hassan was powerful. He was a force to be reckoned with,” Spoelstra said. “... He made his presence felt on both ends of the court. And especially coming off the last game, he’s just shown improved maturity this season and his approach every single day just to get better, to do more to help this team and you saw that tonight.”
While this was a step in the right direction for Whiteside, he’s still struggling at the free-throw line. The 7-footer shot 1 of 6 from the foul line against the Jazz. He’s now made just two of the last 18 free throws he’s taken, a slump that began in a road win over the Bulls on Nov. 23.
“I was over-thinking it the last couple of games,” Whiteside said of his free-throw struggles. “My teammates were talking to me that it’s going to work itself out. I shot close to 70-percent from the free-throw line last year. I believe in hard work and if I keep putting in the work, I think it’s going to turn around and fall for me.”
Whiteside didn’t allow his issues at the foul line affect his overall game on Sunday, though.
“That’s the maturity that I’m talking about, ” Spoelstra said. “He’s just committing himself to find a way to impact winning, one way or another. At the end of the day, did anybody realize or even care about the missed free throws? You can’t. Not when he’s making those kind of efforts, protecting the basket, giving us second opportunities, playing with power and force. Nobody cares about that. Just help us win, big fella, and he did that tonight.”
2. Even in his 16th and final NBA season, Dwyane Wade can still win the Heat a game in the final seconds. The 12-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer finished Sunday with 15 points, three rebounds and eight assists in 30 minutes. It was an inefficient performance with Wade shooting 4 of 15 from the field, but it was one that will be remembered for his play late in the game.
Wade, 36, entered with 4:58 to play and the Heat trailing 91-88. He scored seven points over the final 3:41 of the game, including two game-winning free throws with 3.2 seconds remaining.
“It’s fun. I don’t want it to end,” Spoelstra said of Wade’s final season. “We’ve been through a ton and when he left, I’ve said it before, it didn’t feel right. You don’t know if you’ll ever get an opportunity to coach him again, and when it happened I wanted to enjoy every one of these moments and it’s in a different way than I did before because I didn’t have this kind of perspective, when you know that these are the last days, last games.
3. Lulls in the middle of games have hurt the Heat this season. But on Sunday, Miami withstood a big one. This lull came at the start, with the Heat finding itself down 35-16 with 1:46 remaining in the first quarter.
Miami had a strong response this time. How strong? The Heat used a 20-0 run to come all the way back and turn a 19-point deficit into a one-point lead in a span of just 6:13. Utah missed 14 consecutive shots before ending Miami’s run.
From there, it was a back-and-fourth affair that included 17 lead changes and 16 ties. Point guard Ricky Rubio led the Jazz with 23 points, five rebounds, six assists.
Aside from this lull to start the game that put the Heat in a 19-point hole, Miami outscored Utah by 21 points the rest of the way.
4. The Heat is used to dealing with injuries, but this is getting bad. With Goran Dragic (right knee), Tyler Johnson (right hamstring strain), Derrick Jones Jr. (right hamstring strain) and Dion Waiters (left ankle surgery) all unavailable, the Heat entered Sunday with 10 healthy and available players. That was cut to nine after wing player Rodney McGruder suffered a sprained right ankle in the first quarter of Miami’s win over Utah and did not return.
McGruder was in a walking boot after the game and classified himself as day-to-day. An X-ray on the injured ankle returned negative.
Justise Winslow started in McGruder’s spot to begin the second half, and Udonis Haslem was the only available Heat player who did not play against the Jazz. Spoelstra went with an eight-man rotation after McGruder was forced out early in the contest.
This forced Josh Richardson to play 39 minutes, Wayne Ellington to play 37 minutes, Whiteside to play 34 minutes, Justise Winslow to play 32 minutes and Wade to play 30 minutes Sunday.
“In many regards, from a standpoint of grit and not making excuses or feeling sorry for ourselves, this was our signature game this year,” Spoelstra said after the Heat overcame injuries to defeat the Jazz.
Injuries have followed the Heat around to start the season, as nine players have already combined to miss 73 games due to injury or personal reasons.
5. While winning consecutive games shouldn’t be that big of an accomplishment, it’s an achievement definitely worth nothing for this Heat team that’s struggled with inconsistency. Miami recorded its second consecutive victory Sunday, which marks just the third time it’s won back-to-back games this season. In fact, the Heat had not put two straight wins together in almost a month before Sunday— the last time was a Nov. 5 road win over the Pistons and a Nov. 7 home win over the Spurs.
Another thing to know about the Heat’s current two-game winning streak? Both victories have come after the team decided to switch out its “Vice Nights” uniforms for its alternate red uniforms. Miami was 0-6 in the first six games played in the black Vice look, which prompted the change.
Whatever jersey it comes in, the Heat is just happy to earn a couple of much-needed wins after a 7-13 start to the season. Miami is now 2-1 on its current four-game homestand, and will look to end it with a third straight victory Tuesday against the Orlando Magic. The Heat has not won three straight games yet this season.
“What’s embedded in this culture is get back to work, continue to get better, it’s going to turn,” Wade said. “It’s looked a lot better the last two games. What we got to understand is it’s going to be hard for us to win. We’re going to have to just play and give everything we have, and we’re not going to win every one of them. But if we play the way we’ve played these last two, we will give ourselves more chances than not to win.