Heat Check

Heat slipping? Yes. Whiteside missed? Yes. More of this Dragic needed? Yes.

Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23) drives to the basket against Miami Heat forward James Johnson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Detroit.
Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23) drives to the basket against Miami Heat forward James Johnson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Detroit. AP

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 111-107 loss to the Detroit Pistons at Little Ceasars Arena, which dropped Miami (29-24) from fifth to seventh in the Eastern Conference with Indiana (30-24) and Milwaukee (28-23) moving ahead.

1. The Heat gave up 60 points in the paint, 12 second chance points and was outrebounded 49-33. Did Miami miss Hassan Whiteside’s presence in this game? The answer: Yes.

For as much grief as Whiteside gets for for not always putting forth maximum effort and not putting up big numbers consistently on the offensive end (he doesn’t always get a ton of opportunities), having him around to help keep Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin off the boards would have helped the Heat’s cause Saturday night.

What ultimately killed the Heat down the stretch was that it gave up 35 points in the fouth quarter. The Pistons made 14 of their final 18 shots and scored 20 points in the paint (10 of 12 shooting) in the final period. There’s all the evidence you need to see the Heat missed Whiteside and needed him on the floor.

Miami is now 9-10 when Whiteside doesn’t play this season. The team’s defensive rating with Whiteside on the court is a team-best 101.5. Without him it’s 105.5.

“If you’re going to come back on somebody else’s floor, you’re going to have to try and really grapple and make sure it’s not on their terms,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve had some of these where we’ve won and done it our way. We’ve had others done their way. It’s a painful lesson. We’ve got to keep on grinding. We know what road map is. Giving up 35 in the fourth is not the formula. There were some brilliant great offensive plays going down the stretch, really both teams. If you want to walk away out of this building with a tough, road win, you’ve got to somehow find a way to keep them to the low 20s.”

Goran
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) goes to the basket against Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Detroit. The Pistons defeated the Heat 111-107. Duane Burleson AP

2. Goran Dragic poured in a season-high 33 points in the loss and took a season-high 23 shots in the process. Do the Heat need its All-Star point guard to be more aggressive and take over games more often? He doesn’t think so. But considering how much Miami has struggled offensively of late your best player with the ball in his hands more often isn’t a bad thing.

“He was tireless,” Spoelstra said. “He was aggressive, putting his head down and making plays in semi-transition, getting to the rack. Once he does that, the basket gets bigger for him and three-ball starts to go at that point. He’s a competitor, the second night of a back-to-back. He was doing everything he possible could to get us a win.”

Said Dragic: “I was struggling in the beginning of the game. I was 1 for 7 or something. I just tried to talk to myself, tried to get over that hump. I had a couple of good plays and my confidence went up, seeing the ball go in.”

Dragic finished 13 of 23 from the floor, 4 of 6 from three point range and had six assists, two steals and no turnovers in 35 minutes.

“That’s what All-Stars do,” James Johnson said. “And we’re going to keep allowing him to do that. He’s one of our captains and he don’t talk much, but he leads by example.”

Couldn’t Dragic do more of this more often?

“It’s tough because the other teams are scouting us now,” Dragic said. “That’s what I love about this team. Everybody can score. We can have a different leader ever night. With me, they blitz a lot. So it’s kind of tough to get in rhythm. But at the same time we don’t care who scores the most points. I wish I could score 10 points and win the game. It doesn’t matter for this group. As long we’re competing together we don’t care who scores the most points.”

Winslow
Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) takes a shot against Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Detroit. The Pistons defeated the Heat 111-107. Duane Burleson AP

3. The Heat’s new starting lineup of Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson and Dragic finished plus 1 in 13 minutes on the floor together. It’s the first time this season Spoelstra had all five of those guys on the floor together.

There’s no telling what will happen when Whiteside returns, but it’s clear the group was better than the previous mix of Richardson, Dragic, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Whiteside, which had started the four previous games together and was minus-30 in 99 minutes combined.

Of the new starters, Winslow struggled. He finished 0 for 6 with six rebounds, three assists, a steal and two turnovers in 24 minutes. Adebayo had his moments defensively again and finished with four points, five rebounds and a block in 24 minutes.

Kelly Olynyk fit in just fine, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and a team-best plus 10 for the night.

“We competed,” Dragic said of the Heat’s new starting unit – the 16th different lineup Spoelstra has put out there. “At the end of the third quarter we got a lead. We just needed to do a better job in the fourth quarter.”

James Johnson
Detroit Pistons forward Reggie Bullock, left, drives to the basket against Miami Heat forward James Johnson (16) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Detroit. Duane Burleson AP

4. James Johnson, meanwhile, thrived coming off the bench again. He had 18 points (7 of 12 shooting), five rebounds, seven assists and two steals in 28 minutes.

He’s now made 22 starts and come off the bench 23 times this season.

“I think everyone of us that joins that second unit or anybody who goes in that second unit is going to feel comfortable,” Johnson said. “They play hard, they share the ball, they do everything very hard and very detailed. You just got to pick it up as a unit, whatever unit is out there.”

5. The Heat returns home to open a three-game homestand Monday against the Orlando Magic. The Heat play 10 of its next 14 at home through March 10.

It couldn’t come at a better time. The Heat has already played 30 games on the road (16-14 record) and only 23 at home (13-10 record).

“We just need to take a deep breath and refocus,” Olynyk said. “We’ve just got to go into the next game and get ourselves one.”

Said Dragic: “We didn’t finish the road trip the way we wanted to. Especially if we won tonight, 2-2 is a good result. Tomorrow we have a day off. We’ll try to spend some time with family and try to get back to work. It’s going to be easier. At least we’ll see our family, sleep in our bed and try to re-energize yourself and come back to work.”

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