The Miami Heat learned earlier this season not having Goran Dragic around to run the offense can be quite a problem.
A strained left calf cost him eight games in January and the Heat sputtered, losing five of its first six games without its starting point guard before finding ways to survive in wins at Chicago and Brooklyn.
Monday night, with Dragic sick, running a fever and out for the first time since that Jan. 26 victory in Brooklyn, the Heat found a way to fight through and pick up a win, beating the Nets 110-99 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Dwyane Wade, playing in his 1,000th career game counting the playoffs, had a lot to do with it. The 12-time All-Star scored 30 points, dished out nine assists and quarterbacked the Heat’s offense through most of it as Miami (43-30) improved to 14-6 since the break and kept pace in a tight race for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
“It was pretty obvious we were going to have to have other guys step up, but he did it in the context of what we’re doing,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade, who knocked down a season-high 14 buckets on 19 attempts in 31 minutes and posted his third 30-point scoring game of the season, finishing just two points shy of matching a Heat season-high for scoring.
“He was just being extremely opportunistic and aggressive with his attack touches and looking for opportunities and weaknesses in the defense,” Spoelstra continued. “I said this maybe a week or two weeks ago. It really does appear he’s getting stronger as the season is going on.”
Wade wasn’t alone. Center Hassan Whiteside posted a career-high 27 points, eight rebounds and one block in 31 minutes off the bench in yet another dominating performance that included three dunks off lobs from teammates.
The Heat scored 72 points in the paint — two shy of its season-high of 74 against the Bulls earlier this month. Brook Lopez led the Nets (21-53) with 26 points and four rebounds. Thaddeus Young had 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
Afterward, Whiteside showed off the new pair of slippers Wade gave him as a present before the game with his new nickname — Agent Block — stretched across the top.
“That Defensive Player of the Year conversation needs to be had,” Wade said of Whiteside. “His impact on the game is that big, that good. I’m happy with how he’s approached getting better and better with his maturity. Obviously his basketball game and his talents are going to another level. But his maturity is really taking him to another level. In my eyes, if you look around the league he’s Defensive Player of the Year. I think that conversation has to start happening.”
Rookie Josh Richardson, who started in Dragic’s place, had 16 points, five rebounds and two assists in a season-high 38 minutes. It was Richardson’s second start of the season and his first since his third NBA game back on Nov. 12. That’s the night he started for Wade, who missed the game to be with his youngest son in the hospital.
Wade, Richardson, Josh McRoberts, rookie Justise Winslow and Joe Johnson, whom the Heat picked up from Brooklyn after he was bought out in late February, all took turns running the point at different points throughout the game.
Monday, it was Wade who did the best job orchestrating Miami’s offense. After scoring eight points in the first quarter and appearing to injure his left thumb diving for a loose ball, Wade came back and immediately turned in a three-point play with a layup and free throw with 6:33 to go in the second quarter to give the Heat a 42-40 lead it would hold onto the rest of the way.
Winslow left the game with 2:55 remaining after he scored, landed awkwardly and walked gingerly back to the Heat bench. He finished with 13 points and three rebounds in 32 minutes.
“Looked way scarier than it was,” Winslow said. “I’ll be up walking around the [team] plane [headed for Los Angeles] tomorrow.”