Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 101-99 win over the Houston Rockets (16-15) on Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
1. The Heat’s defense continues to win it games. Miami (14-16) owns the league’s ninth-best defensive rating, allowing 106.4 points per 100 possessions this season. That top-10 defense limited a hot Rockets offense, which made an NBA record 26 threes the night before in a win over the Wizards, to 99 points on 35.4 percent shooting. It marked just the third time this season Houston has been held under 36 percent shooting.
“Consistency with it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked what’s been going right for the team’s defense. “We’ve had stretches during the season where we’ve defended really well. We’ve been basically a top-10 defensive team all year long, but we’ll have a great performance holding somebody under 40 percent, then the next time it’s giving up 130 points at home with no rhyme or reason to it, so this is the first extended period of time where we’ve actually defended.”
After the Rockets made nine of their first 15 shots, they converted on just 20 of their final 67 shots (29.9 percent). Miami really tightened up in the second half, as Houston hit just 11 of its 41 shots (26.8 percent) over the final two quarters.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
The Heat is now 8-1 this season when holding its opponent under 100 points. An even more indicative stat of the Heat’s gritty identity is its 4-4 record when shooting 40 percent or worse, with the rest of the NBA 9-105 this season when shooting that poorly from the field.
“I feel like our identity is trying to make it ugly,” said Heat guard Tyler Johnson, who finished with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting. “A lot of teams aren’t used to that. So, I feel like in the three years that we’ve been here, we’ve had to win ugly a lot. In most of our games, we’re not running away with anything. It’s a two-point game, one-point game going down the stretch. It’s always been part of our identity.”
There might not be a team in the NBA that relies on its defense more to win games than the Heat.
2. We know the defense has to be good for the Heat to win most nights. But what’s been a hidden key to its winning formula? Offensive rebounds. And it played a big part in Thursday’s victory, as Miami outrebounded Houston 61-41. That advantage on the glass included 20 offensive rebounds for the Heat, which has become a strength this season. Miami is averaging the second-most offensive rebounds at 12.7 per game.
The offensive rebounds have helped create extra opportunities for an inefficient Heat offense that has the worst team shooting percentage in the league. Second-chance points have helped make up for some of those shooting struggles, with the Heat averaging the second-most second-chance points in the league at 15.8 per game. Miami’s success on the boards resulted in a 28-9 edge in that department against Houston.
While all of this takes a team effort, Derrick Jones Jr. has a played a big part. He finished with six offensive rebounds Thursday, and has now come up with five or more offensive rebounds in four of his past six games.
Center Hassan Whiteside also deserves some credit. He finished Thursday’s win with nine points and 17 rebounds, including six offensive boards. Whiteside turned in a strong fourth quarter, grabbing seven rebounds in six minutes in the period. It marked his first fourth-quarter minutes since a Dec. 2 home win over the Jazz.
“DJ and Bam [Adebayo], those athletic guys that are giving us opportunities, second, third. [Whiteside] came in in the fourth today, he got some big offensive rebounds,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “We need that, we need those extra possessions. It’s great when we have the game where we’re making all our shots, but that’s not going to happen all the time.”
3. Jones continues to impress. The best stretch of his NBA career continued Thursday, as he finished with 15 points and eight rebounds off the bench in 27 minutes. The 21-year-old forward is averaging 10.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.5 blocks over his past six games. The Heat has outscored teams by 46 points with Jones on the court during this stretch.
“[Jones] is a game-changer,” said Josh Richardson, who recorded a team-high 22 points for the Heat. “He’s doing so much for us right now. He’s defending, he’s rebounding, he’s playing tough down the stretch, he’s in the game in the fourth quarter. And he just really started playing. When he’s flying through the air like that, people are looking around and then other guys are getting open lanes. So he’s a big help.”
After starting the season as a situational player, Jones has turned into an essential part of the Heat’s rotation with his ability to grab offensive rebounds and defend multiple positions with his elite athleticism. He’s now played in seven consecutive games and is averaging 22.6 minutes of playing time during that span. Jones’ emergence has come at the expense of Wayne Ellington, who played just five minutes against Houston.
4. Rockets point guard Chris Paul exited the game with 6:43 to play in the second quarter with a strained left hamstring and never returned, and the Heat took over from there. When Paul left, the Rockets led 45-37. Miami outscored Houston 64-54 the rest of the way.
The Rockets shot just 28.8 percent from the field after Paul’s departure. His backcourt mate James Harden had a tough shooting night, as he finished with 35 points on 7 of 23 shooting from the field. With Harden missing shots and Paul out, Miami took advantage.
5. Don’t look now, but the Heat is in the middle of its longest winning streak of the season. Miami’s victory over Houston is its third consecutive win. That’s a mark the Heat had not reached over the first two months of the season, with four two-game win streaks the best it had done before Thursday.
“We know we can’t exhale,” Whiteside said. “Let’s keep our foot on the gas and let’s keep pushing. We’re going to keep coming in and getting better.”
The Heat has used long winning streaks over the past two seasons to make up for slow starts. In 2016-17, it was the famous 13-game streak that helped Miami dig itself out of a 11-30 hole. In 2017-18, it was a seven-game streak that helped it earn a playoff spot despite a 11-13 start.
Is the Heat in the middle of this season’s streak? Miami hasn’t just won three straight, it’s also won seven of its past 10 games. And eight of the Heat’s next 11 games come at home.