ORLANDO — After a 2-8 start last season, the Heat made it clear they wanted to avoid another slow start this year. But after Wednesday’s season opener, Miami is 0-1.
The Heat fell to the Magic 116-109 at Amway Center in a disappointing performance. It marks the fourth consecutive time Orlando (1-0) has defeated Miami — a streak that began last season.
“It felt like we were just playing catch up for the majority of the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We never really got a handle on our defense.”
The Heat trailed by as much as 17 points in the game, but found a way to cut the Magic’s lead to two with 2 minutes and 39 seconds remaining in the game. It wasn’t enough, with Orlando closing the contest on an 11-6 run to earn the victory.
Center Hassan Whiteside was dominant with 26 points and 22 rebounds. But the rest of his Heat teammates shot 39.3 percent from the field, including a 6-of-19 performance from Goran Dragic.
Dragic totaled 17 points, four rebounds and six assists. James Johnson finished with 11 points, four rebounds and eight assists off the Heat’s bench.
Aside from the 0-1 start, the Heat left Orlando with another big concern. Dion Waiters said he tweaked his troublesome left ankle three times Wednesday, but played through it to finish with 15 points on 7-of-17 shooting and four assists.
“It’s just annoying, man,” Waiters said of the ankle that forced him to miss the final 13 games of the 2016-17 season. “It sucks, for real. The littlest thing. It’s whatever, though. … I can’t be limping and do all that type of stuff and show weakness. At the end of the day, that’s not who I am. But we just got to keep strengthening it and whatever, and just take care of it. That’s all I can do.”
The Magic were led by Nikola Vucevic, who finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Miami will try to bounce back Saturday when it opens a season-long six-game homestand with a matchup against the Indiana Pacers.
Here are our five takeaways …
Mixed results for new-look Heat starting five: Spoelstra decided to go big with his first starting lineup of the season. Dragic, Waiters and Josh Richardson started next to 7-footers Kelly Olynyk and Whiteside. Dragic, Waiters and Whiteside were expected to start, but the uncertainty surrounded the two forward spots that Richardson and Olynyk occupied in the season opener. With Dragic playing just two preseason games, Wednesday’s minutes were the first this lineup has ever played together. The group played the first 6 minutes and 13 seconds and outscored Orlando 17-15, with Olynyk recording a team-high seven points during this stretch. But the lineup didn’t perform well to start the second half, as the Magic outscored the Heat 14-4 over the first 3 minutes and 31 seconds of the third quarter. So does this starting lineup work? We’ll have to wait to see more after a game of mixed results.
“I don’t know if I can make that definitive determination now,” Spoelstra said when asked about the Heat’s starting lineup. “As usual, I’ll reflect and study and see what direction we go forward.”
Not a good night for Heat defense: The Heat’s offense wasn’t bad. It was the defense that let them down in Orlando. The Magic scored 116 points on 47.8 percent shooting. That’s not the type of defense the Heat used to record a 30-11 record over the second half of last season, as they posted the league’s third-best defensive rating during this 41-game span. These struggles against Orlando are nothing new, though. The Magic scored an average of 114.5 points in their four matchups against the Heat last season. But it’s not an excuse. Defense is a big part of the Heat’s formula, and they won’t win many games with the defensive performance they put together Wednesday.
“If we want to get where we want to get to with this group, we’re going to really have to commit to those tough things, the physical things, the little things defensively, being detailed,” Spoelstra said. “All of these things we’re capable of and we’ve shown flashes of during the preseason, training camp. It’s tough to win in this league. We have to really commit to that defensive identity.”
The league’s best rebounder is back: Whiteside led the NBA in rebounding last season with 14.1 rebounds per game, and it looks like he’s serious about defending his crown. The Heat center started the 2017-18 season with a 22-rebound performance. 10 of those rebounds came in the first half. Detroit’s Andre Drummond finished second to Whiteside with 13.8 rebounds per game last season. If Wednesday’s game is any indication, Drummond and every other NBA player will have to do better than that to catch up to Whiteside.
This Heat team is deep: Deep and versatile are two words that can be used to describe this Heat roster. Miami used 10 players in the contest and seven finished with double-digit points. How versatile are the Heat? Olynyk is the starting power forward and the backup center, and Justise Winslow is playing as a point guard and forward off the Heat’s bench. This depth and versatility was on display even with Rodney McGruder out due to a a left tibia stress fracture, and it should be a strength for Miami moving forward. But none of this matters if it isn’t resulting in wins.
The Bam Adebayo minutes: The rookie was thrown into the fire early with six minutes of action in the first half of the season opener. Adebayo didn’t score a point or grab a rebound during this short stretch and looked like you would expect a rookie to look — uncomfortable. But it’s an encouraging sign that Spoelstra trusts the 20-year-old enough to play him in the first half of the first game of the season. Adebayo did not play in the second half. The production wasn’t great, but it should improve as he gets more minutes.