Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 100-96 win over the New Orleans Pelicans (15-16) on Sunday at Smoothie King Center:
1. The Heat might have found a winning identity during the road trip. At least Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is seeing strong signs of one.
The Heat went 4-2 on the trip. It held the opponent to under 100 points in all four wins.
“We took a step forward on this trip in the last 10 days,” Spoelstra said. “It’s committing to this identity of being a junkyard dog, lunch pail, hard hat -- however you want to describe this team. We’ve taken some steps forward and we have to continue it.”
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One example: Pelicans star Anthony Davis not only failed to score in the third quarter on Sunday, he didn’t even take a shot. Spoelstra credited the defensive play of Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo for putting the handcuffs on Davis.
2. Did we mention Whiteside? Maybe the whole fatherhood thing was just what the good doctor ordered for the Heat center.
Memory refresher: It was Whiteside who left the bench early in the Heat’s last home game. And it was Whiteside who missed the first four games of the trip to attend to the birth of his first child.
The Heat have won both games since he rejoined the team in Memphis. He scored 11 first-quarter points on Sunday before finishing with 17 and a dozen rebounds.
“I’m just playing and really taking pride in defense,” Whiteside said. “I’m definitely fired up. I’m really fired up. We won two games since I came back.”
Spoelstra couldn’t be happier.
“I loved it,” Spoelstra said. “The last two games he really made some competitive winning plays. The last play that he made was diving on the floor.”
3. His body might be balking, but Dwyane Wade is persevering and can still perform.
Wade missed Friday’s game in Memphis with a sore lower back but Sunday canned a couple of tough 3’s, including an off-balance bank shot over Davis, on his way to a 19-point outing.
“Dwyane needed a couple of new, big challenges with his last season,” Spoelstra said. “And the first big challenge is a dynamic leadership role. He’s always been a leader and the face of our franchise. This is requiring a little bit more leadership, a little bit more equal parts mentoring. I love seeing him evolve and develop.”
Spoelstra said Wade is pushing through pain out of respect to paying fans.
“That’s what’s so special about Dwyane,” Spoelstra said. “He wants to be out there competing for his guys, number one. But. secondly, he feels the responsibility on the road. He understands that fans and kids, in particular, have paid for tickets to see him compete one last time, and he wants to honor that as much as possible. All the travel and the games and foreign beds, his back has just locked up. He couldn’t move by the time we got to Memphis.”
4. Justise Winslow wasn’t moving so well Sunday. Winslow sat out the second half with a stiff ankle that limited his mobility.
The Heat is already without Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, so Winslow’s ankle issue could only compound problems for the Heat.
“It just stiffened up,” Spoelstra said. “He didn’t have the mobility in the second half. He wasn’t able to push through int the second half.”
Winslow played just 14 minutes and scored two points.
5. Derrick Jones Jr. has quietly emerged as a key force off the bench for the Heat. He enjoyed a strong road trip, perhaps his best stretch of basketball ever in the NBA.
On Sunday, Jones came up big with 11 points and eight rebounds against the Pelicans.
“It’s incremental improvement and that’s what you want from young guys,” Spoelstra said of Jones, who played 21 minutes on Sunday. “He’s improved dramatically.”
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