Even without two starters, the Heat found a way.
After two straight losses, Miami (5-10) got a much-needed 90-81 win over Memphis on Friday at FedExForum to avoid a losing road trip. The Heat finished the four-game trip with a 2-2 record.
Miami was without starting point guard Goran Dragic (strained left elbow) and starting small forward Justise Winslow (sprained left wrist). Guard Wayne Ellington (right thigh contusion) and center Willie Reed (hyper-extended right knee) also missed Friday’s game.
But the Heat had enough thanks to their defense. Miami held Memphis to 35.4 percent shooting to snap the Grizzlies’ six-game winning streak.
“I think it’s one of the best times in the league is when you have adversity, guys are out, you’re on the road at the end of the trip,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have opportunities to build character and build your identity of not making excuses.”
The Heat return home to face the Grizzlies again Saturday on the second night of the home-and-home set.
Here are our five takeaways from Friday’s game …
1. Heat need more team meetings: Although Heat coaches and players stopped short of calling it a team meeting, players talked about what went wrong in Wednesday’s disappointing loss to the Pistons immediately after the game. Whatever was said in the meeting, it apparently worked. The Heat turned in an inspired performance against the Grizzlies despite not having starters Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow. Miami never trailed and led by as much as 17 points.
2. Defense will win Heat games: It’s not exactly difficult to figure it out. The Heat’s defense has to be good for them to win games. Entering Friday’s game, Miami was holding opponents to 39.3 percent shooting in wins compared to 44.4 percent in losses. The Heat’s limited offense isn’t good enough to consistently overcome bad defensive performances this season. Friday’s victory in Memphis was a perfect example, as Miami used a strong defensive performance to record a quality win. The Heat held the Grizzlies to 35.4 percent shooting and forced 17 Memphis turnovers.
“We have enough capable guys in there when we get to how we want to play and that’s trying to be tough and physical defensively,” Spoelstra said. “We didn’t feel so much pressure on our offense when we were able to get multiple stops.”
3. Tyler Johnson the scorer: The Heat need this desperately from Tyler Johnson this season. Without many players on the roster who can create offense off the dribble, Johnson’s growth in that department is vital to Miami’s success. The 24-year-old filled that need in Miami’s win over Memphis, finishing with a team-high 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting off the bench. That’s good news for the Heat considering that Johnson had made 10 of his last 37 shots (27 percent) entering Friday’s game.
“He’s being aggressive where we need him to be aggressive,” Spoelstra said of Johnson. “He’s in a great groove right now and we would like to keep it that way.”
4. Why isn’t Hassan Whiteside scoring?: Points haven’t been easy to come by lately for Hassan Whiteside. The Heat’s center has scored 10 points over the past two games, which includes his four-point performance against Memphis on Friday. This scoring slump comes after Whiteside scored a career-high 32 points against the 76ers on Monday. What’s the issue? The Heat aren’t putting him in a position to get many good shots, as he’s attempted 14 shots over the past two games. And opponents are packing the paint to make it difficult for the Heat to get the ball to Whiteside in the post. Miami will have to make outside shots to help create some space for Whiteside moving forward. Despite his low point total, Whiteside still impacted the game with 12 rebounds and two blocks.
“Hassan really set the tone,” Spoelstra said. “His box score does not really tell the true story of his impact on this game. He really had a great impact. He even had some great words right before we went out there for the team to follow his lead and guys did that particularly on the defensive end.”
5. Udonis Haslem made a difference: It had been a quiet start to the season for Udonis Haslem. The 14-year veteran had scored one point and grabbed six rebounds in his first four games of the season. But his fifth appearance of the season was his best … so far. After Hassan Whiteside picked up his fourth foul with 9:05 remaining in the third quarter, Haslem entered the game and played the rest of the period. Haslem provided quality minutes, as the Heat outscored the Grizzlies by five with him on the court in the third despite Whiteside sitting on the bench for most of the quarter. Haslem finished with a season-high four points and grabbed three rebounds to go with solid defense in Whiteside’s absence.
“That’s why he’s here, still to contribute and then to offer the Miami Heat culture leadership example,” Spoelstra said of Haslem. “He’s been outstanding with that. But we need him particularly in those moments. That’s exactly why we have him. … I trust him as much as I trust anybody.”