MIAMI — Not many saw this coming.
The Heat entered Tuesday’s game with the NBA’s second-worst record. They entered in the middle of a stretch that’s included 13 losses in 15 games.
But Miami (12-30) found a way to defeat the potent Rockets (32-12) 109-103 on Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena to open a four-game homestand. It marked the Heat’s first win over a winning team since they defeated the 13-12 Pacers on Dec. 14.
“You’re pleased to see the guys get a result from all the work they’ve been putting in,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This was an example of not getting frustrated with the losses and it’s a byproduct of a lot of those practice sessions on the road that led to our last two practice sessions. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves or making excuses, just get to work and keep on working to get better.”
With the score tied at 79 entering the fourth quarter, the Heat were up for the challenge. Miami led by as much as 14 points in the final period with the help of six points and five assists from Goran Dragic in the fourth.
Center Hassan Whiteside controlled the paint with 14 points and 15 rebounds to help the Heat finish with a 64-50 edge in the paint.
But Miami won with its defense, holding the Rockets to 9-of-39 (23.1 percent) shooting from 3-point range. Houston entered the game as the NBA’s sixth-best 3-point shooting team at 37.5 percent.
Here are our five takeaways from the game …
1. Fast pace, no problem: Entering the season, the Heat wanted to play fast. But that hasn’t materialized, as Miami entered Tuesday’s game as the NBA’s ninth-slowest team. Don’t be fooled, though. The Heat can play fast when they need to. They needed to against the Rockets — the NBA’s fourth-fastest team. And the Heat looked comfortable playing at Houston’s tempo. The Heat scored 109 points on 46.7 percent shooting, as six Miami players finished with double-digit points.
“It’s so much easier to win,” Goran Dragic said of six Heat players scoring in double-digits. “The ball is moving from one side to the other, everybody is involved, everybody is playing hard on defense. It kind of carries over to the next guy. If you’re competing hard, the next guy sees he can’t relax. He needs to do the same thing.”
2. Johnsons continue strong season: There haven’t been many bright spots for the Heat this season. But one is definitely the consistent contributions Miami is getting off the bench from James Johnson and Tyler Johnson. The duo turned in another quality performance Tuesday, combining for 31 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and six steals. James finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Tyler finished with 16 points, two rebounds and three assists. Both players are averaging career-highs in points, rebounds and assists.
“That’s probably been one of the great pleasant positives of this season is our bench,” Spoelstra said.
3. Dion Waiters back on track … for a game: It’s been a struggle for Dion Waiters since returning from injury. Waiters shot 29.8 percent (17-of-57) over his first five games back from a groin injury that forced him to miss more than a month of action. But the 25-year-old was more effective in his sixth game back, finishing with 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting to go with five rebounds and three assists. But it seems like Waiters has had more inefficient nights than efficient ones with the Heat, as he’s now shooting 37.2 percent this season.
“It’s all about timing,” Waiters said after the win. “Just getting back into that rhythm, that mindset of sticking to that same routine, believing in yourself, self-confidence. I missed a lot of time. We were on the road so I couldn’t really play as much as I would like to. We come home, we had two great practices. I think that’s all I really needed.”
4. The James Harden experience: The Heat got the full James Harden experience Tuesday night. Erik Spoesltra said the Heat would throw the “kitchen sink” at the Rockets guard, and he wasn’t lying. Rodney McGruder, Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters took turns defending Harden in the win. The Heat even picked Harden up full court during stretches in an effort to tire him out. Harden still got his numbers, but he wasn’t as efficient as usual. The MVP candidate finished with his 13th triple-double of the season. He recorded 40 points on 12-of-30 shooting, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. But the Heat got the win. That’s the stat Miami cares about.
“That’s all you can ask your guys to do is make him work, make him earn it, try to take away some of the easy ones,” Spoelstra said of defending Harden. “He’s as offensively skilled as any player in this league. It’s tough to speed him up. It’s tough to rattle him. He can get to wherever he wants to go and he makes great decisions. He makes so many plays and generates so much offense for that team, you just want to wear on him. I don’t even know if we did, to be honest.”
5. Okaro White watches from bench: Okaro White was available Tuesday night after signing a 10-day contract with the Heat earlier in the day. But Erik Spoelstra opted not to play White against the Rockets. The 24-year-old will have to wait a little longer to make his NBA debut. With a fast-paced Rockets team that uses small lineups to space the floor, Spoelstra chose to stick with a guard-heavy rotation that included guards Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder, Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington. Considering White was a 30.2 percent 3-point shooter in Sioux Falls before being called up by the Heat, it could have been the matchup that kept him on the bench against the Rockets.