Heat Check

Five takeaways from Heat-Wizards: It was a quality win no matter how scary the finish

Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat celebrates after scoring and getting fouled against the Washington Wizards in the second half at Capital One Arena on November 17, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat celebrates after scoring and getting fouled against the Washington Wizards in the second half at Capital One Arena on November 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. Getty Images

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 91-88 win over the Washington Wizards Friday night, a quality win and the first this season against a team that currently has a winning record.

1. The Heat still can’t put 48 minutes of solid basketball together against a good team, but at least they’ve figured out how to pull out wins in a couple tough situations now. Blowing leads continues to be a problem for this team, but at least you can say Miami is 2-0 when it gets up 25 points and blows it faster than a gambler at the roulette table. (Remember the Clippers game?)

Coach Erik Spoelstra has said this multiple times now – big leads in the NBA these days are simply hard to protect. With fewer timeouts, a faster pace to the game and the continud growth and improvement of three-point shooting throughout the league, wild swings have become the norm.

The Wizards, who were 0 for 13 in the first half on three-pointers, were 10 of 22 from beyond the arc in the second half and with the Heat shooting 36.8 percent over the final two quarters it was easy for them to trim a 21-point halftime deficit down to a single point with 11 seconds left.

Down the stretch, the Heat made the plays it needed to, smartly passing the ball inside to Hassan Whiteside while Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson combined to shoot a combined 8 of 34 from the field for 22 points. Whiteside had 22 points on 10 of 12 shooting by himself. For that, you have to give the Heat credit.

The Heat, by the way, is now 4-5 in clutch games this season. Last season, Miami was 8-15 in clutch games over its 11-30 start and 13-8 in clutch games over its 30-11 finish.

James Johnson closeup
James Johnson of the Miami Heat looks on against the Washington Wizards in the first half at Capital One Arena on November 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rob Carr Getty Images

2. Welcome back James Johnson. The guy who got Whiteside the ball in the fourth quarter for several big buckets was co-captain James Johnson, who took a lot of criticism for his passive play over the last four games (he was averaging only 5.8 shot attempts), took ownership of it and then rose to the occassion on Friday.

Johnson finished with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists, but most importantly set the table for his teammates with his effort and hustle.

Much like he did when he scored 10 first-quarter points in the Wizards’ 102-93 win in Miami on Wednesday, Markieff Morris got off to a quick start Friday, scoring the first four points of the game for Washington. This time, however, Spoelstra countered by bringing Johnson off the bench right away to shut that down, giving Justise Winslow the hook only 76 seconds into the game.

The move sparked Johnson, who scored seven points in 11 first-quarter minutes to lead Miami to a 26-17 lead after 12 minutes. Then, in the second half, Johnson scored 13 points and had two assists while Waiters and Dragic struggled as the Wizards turned up their defense on them and the Heat’s pick-and-roll offense.

“It’s not whether he scores 20. That’s never been J.J.’s impact on this team,” Spoelstra said. “It’s all encompassing – leadership, competitiveness, and having a force of will that the guys follow. And you saw that tonight.”

Dion Waiters
Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards fouls Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat in the first half at Capital One Arena on November 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rob Carr Getty Images

3. Getting on the break and pushing the pace is something this Heat team has to do more of and did during the first half Friday. Miami came in averaging 7.6 fastbreak points per game, good for 24th in the league. Friday, they had 19 fastbreak points in the first half alone – three more than their previous season-high for game in a win over the Clippers.

Last season, over the second half of the season, Miami averaged 11.7 fastbreak points per game. Playing fast is hard to do in this league when the other team is scoring and Miami’s early defensive struggles have been well documented. But when the defense is on like it was Friday the Heat has to get easy buckets in transition. We’ve seen too many times now where the Heat’s offense goes into a lull in the halfcourt. Friday, it didn’t in the first half.

“When we go in the open court we’re a totally different team,” Dragic said. “Most of those fastbreak points came with good defense. The outlet passes came fast and when can go on the runs we did. It helps to build a lead and helps with your confidence. But we need to find ways to score. It’s not going to be the same every game.”

On the flip side, the Wizards, who have one of the best backcourts in the league, scored only seven fastbreak points. Washington came in averaging 10.3 per game behind its star-driven backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall missed his first seven shots didn’t score until he hit a three-pointer with 5:25 to play in the game and Beal finished with 26 points, but on 22 shots. He also only got the free throw line four times after getting to the line 14 times in Wednesday’s win in Miami.

“When they play halfcourt its a different game,” Dragic said. “They’re good in the open court, especially when you have more space on the floor. You can penetrate, get more fouls. When the defense is concentrating and you have two or three guys around you it is a little bit tougher. That was one of our goals – not to put them on the free throw line.”

Justise Winslow
Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017, in Washington. Nick Wass AP

4. Justise Winslow bounced back from his early benching and provided a lift. Getting the hook with 10:44 to play in the opening quarter sent Winslow a message.

“Just needed a better start,” Winslow said. “My energy wasn’t there. That was on me. I’ve got to do a better job of being ready.”

The good news is he responded, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds, an assist and two steals in 18 minutes.

That’s not necessarily an impressive stat for a player you need and expect more from being the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft. But considering how the game starter and that Winslow is still working himself back into form, his dunks, blocks and eurostep moves created energy. And it turned out to be a bigger contribution than most others provided on Friday.

“Those are the type of plays I'm trying to make,” Winslow said. “Whether its a dunk, euro, block, those are the type of plays to get the whole team going. That’s what I try to do, those energy plays to try to spark the team, get us into that flow.”

5. A little luck always helps. Look, as good as the Heat played Friday, they were fortunate on a couple fronts. Wall wasn’t fully healthy and complained afterward about having fluid in his knee.

And Beal passed on an open three-point shot before driving and pulling up and missing an open 17-footer that would have tied the score and sent it to overtime, something he regretted after the game.

“I felt like it was a good look,” Beal said of the 17-footer. “I’m still debating in my head if I should have shot the three or if I should have went to my step-back or whatever. I’m still confident in that shot and that’s a shot I make every day, so I’m a little pissed off at myself, but I’ll have another opportunity to be in that situation again and it will be a different result.”