There was a stretch during the second quarter of the Heat’s game in Brooklyn on Monday when all three of the team’s rookies were on the floor together.
With Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts out with injuries, the Heat was struggling badly and coach Erik Spoelstra desperately was searching for something to click.
Improbably, the Heat’s three rookies — guards Shabazz Napier and Andre Dawkins and swingman James Ennis — briefly found something resembling an offensive rhythm and helped cut an early lead for the Nets to nothing.
The lineup of rookies was just one example of the Heat’s spit-and-glue game plan. Spoelstra experimented liberally at Barclays Center in an attempt to shake the Heat out of its three-game losing streak, and somehow it worked despite so many injured players. For the fourth game in a row the Heat played ugly basketball, but this time Miami actually won doing it, defeating the Brooklyn Nets 95-83.
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A three-point play by Chalmers gave the Heat an 87-80 lead with 2:37 to play, and a three-pointer from Chris Bosh put the Heat ahead by 11 points with 1:23 left. The game didn’t prove much other than somehow the Nets are playing worse basketball than the depleted Heat right now.
Still, it was a psychologically important road victory for Miami, which came to Brooklyn with consecutive losses to the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.
“Nobody ever came out and said it, but the feeling was we’ve got to come out and win this game and that we can’t lose this game,” said Heat center Udonis Haslem, who had six points and six rebounds off the bench. “We were challenged, but I think we took steps in the right direction as far as communicating, connecting and building character.
“There are a lot of things that didn’t go our way and we could have held our heads like we did [Sunday] night, but tonight we kept our heads up and played with passion.”
Wade missed his third consecutive game with a hamstring injury, and Deng was a late scratch after spraining his wrist against the Bucks on Sunday. McRoberts missed another game with a blister on his foot.
With so many players out, Spoelstra was forced to start forward Danny Granger. The team had been holding Granger out of games to ensure he was completely healthy before using him.
“I have been progressing pretty well, so I felt confident to go out there tonight,” said Granger, who had four points in 20 minutes. “It was an important win because we were coming off of three losses in a row and we were shorthanded and we lost to some teams we probably should have beat.”
Chalmers, who started in place of Wade, led the Heat with 22 points, going 5 of 12 from the field and 1 of 5 from three-point range but 11 of 13 from the free-throw line. He also had five assists, two steals and three rebounds. Starting point guard Norris Cole had 12 points and backup point guard Shabazz Napier scored 11 points, going 4 of 8 from the field and 3 of 6 from three-point range.
Ennis played almost 36 minutes — second only to starter Shawne Williams — and had 10 points and eight rebounds. Ennis’ second dunk of the night gave the Heat a 60-51 lead with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter. The rookie’s first-half dunk was a thing of athletic beauty. He double pumped in transition to avoid a block attempt by Alan Anderson to tie the score at 29 with 6:30 remaining in the second quarter.
Napier and Ennis received some words of encouragement from Bosh after the game. Bosh finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
“He told us to keep competing at a high level,” Ennis said. “Don’t dwell on one play you messed up and continue to move onto the next play. He’s a veteran star player and that was great motivation.”
The Heat’s rookie lineup in the second quarter bridged an important gap in the rotation and gave Chalmers time to rest. Five- points in a row from Chalmers tied the score at 34-34 with less than three minutes to play in the first half. The Heat was shooting below 40 percent from the field before Chalmers’ game-tying layup.
“We wanted to come out with more passion and we wanted to be connected,” Spoelstra said.
“You saw it through communication on the court. That was encouraging. It was probably our loudest game in terms of on the court, in the huddles, pregame and halftime. And that’s a good step, but we have to keep on building.”