Check out where Miami Heat grew during their longest road trip of the season

Pistons guard Ish Smith has his shot blocked by Heat guard Tyler Johnson as center Kelly Olynyk helps defend the shot during Detroit’s win Sunday. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

DETROIT – The Miami Heat would have preferred to return home from their longest road trip of the season feeling better about Sunday’s game. But looking at the big picture, Miami will take splitting six games, especially when five of those were against teams from out West.

The Heat (6-7) now get back to familiar surroundings to start another challenging stretch. Miami faces Washington twice – at home Wednesday and in D.C. Friday – before home games against Indiana and Boston next week.

“We finally get to go back home for a little bit,” Josh Richardson said. “We definitely can take advantage. … rest a little bit and get ready to go again.”

Miami has not had the start to the season it expected, but this trip was far more successful than its longest of the 2016-17 season (1-5) and the team did show some growth.

The Heat started to look like the team we’ve become accustomed to seeing under coach Erik Spoelstra. The pace slowed, which is more to their style, and the defense picked up.

“We would have loved to finish above .500 but we took a lot of good things away that we can use,” Tyler Johnson said.

“Defensively is where we figured some things out. We kind of took maybe like a half step back (against Detroit) as far as our defensive pressure and intensity but that doesn’t take away from they’re a good team and they have the record they have for a reason. But I think defensively and just figuring out where our identity is I think that’s where we made the most strides.”

Miami wilted during the second half of its 112-103 loss to the Pistons, perhaps more a product of fatigue from being on the road for 11-days and thinking about finally getting back home. The Pistons scored 57 points and shot 53.8 percent in the second half, overcoming an 11-point third quarter deficit.

“I feel like I’m getting off punishment,” said Hassan Whiteside, who made it clear he was anxious to get on the plane.

“It feels like we’ve been on the road for two months now. It’s going to be good to sleep in your own bed and get to see your house and get back in front of Heat fans.”

Even with the second half hiccup in Detroit, Miami ended the six games allowing 99.0 points per game while the opponents shot 41.6 percent and it has the sixth best defensive rating at 99.9 since the start of the trip.

Compare those numbers in the last six games to the first seven of the season, six of which were at home. Miami gave up 106.6 points per game while opponents shot 45.9 percent and was 17th in with a defensive rating of 104.9.

The defensive highlights of the trip: Holding the juggernaut Warriors to season lows of 97 points and 36.8 percent shooting (the problem was the Heat could manage just 80 points in the loss). And limiting Utah to 5.6 percent shooting (1 of 18) in the third quarter and 12.1 percent (4 of 33) in the second half to overcome a 12-point halftime deficit for a throwback 84-74 victory.

“When you’re on the road the team gets closer, you hang out together,” Goran Dragic said. “When you’re at home, you have different types of (distractions). But here you only think about basketball. We hang out a lot. We talk a lot. Yeah we finished 3-3. If you look at the first one in Denver we could have finished 4-2. It’s a tough one to swallow.

“But it was a good road trip.”

The Heat continue to hover around .500, which is not alarming this early in the season. But at some point, they will have to start winning at a greater rate to prove the growth they showed during the second half of last season will carry over to this season.

That won’t be easy, at least not in the immediate future. After playing three of the next four at home, Miami has another daunting stretch with seven of the next nine games on the road.

“We grew. We took steps forward. We got better as a team,” said Dion Waiters, who missed two games of the trip, returning home to witness the birth of his daughter. “It’s early. We’ve got a chance to make corrections right now.

“Just keep moving forward. We’re getting better. We’re moving in the right direction.”

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