The Miami Heat had a golden opportunity to record their first victory over a winning team Wednesday, grabbing a seven-point lead against the Washington Wizards with 9½ minutes to play with a small lineup on the floor.
But the lead quickly dissipated as coach Erik Spoelstra continued to go small with Hassan Whiteside, who finished with 14 points and 21 rebounds, on the bench. By the time Whiteside returned, Miami trailed by four.
Miami would never get closer than two points the rest of the way before falling 102-93.
“That team that we had out there got a seven-point lead so we were trying to milk it, and it went too quickly,” Spoelstra said.
“They went small. That’s typically what’s going on in this league on a night to night basis. Once one team goes on a run, another team goes small. Then you match and then it shifts and then they just were able to attack the basket from there and really live in the paint during those possessions going down the stretch.”
The Heat started the fourth quarter with Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic on the floor. That unit pushed the Heat lead to 80-73, their biggest of the game.
Soon after, they went even smaller as Spoelstra continued to match the Wizards’ lineup by inserting Justise Winslow for Olynyk, which moved the 6-foot-8 James Johnson to center. Meanwhile, the Wizards started chipping away and tied the score at 80 with 8:05 to play.
By the time Whiteside returned 6:27 remained in the game and the Heat trailed 87-83. Wizards coach Scott Brooks countered by bringing back his center, Marcin Gortat.
Whiteside did play the entire third quarter when the Heat outscored the Wizards 25-10. But Miami was outscored 12-7 with Whiteside on the court in the fourth quarter. He played just under 34 minutes for the game, second most on the team behind Dion Waiters.
“Of course you want to get back out there especially when you see the other team making a run,” Whiteside said. “But you just have to trust Coach Spo’s decision and just trust his decision making and he’s doing the right thing.
“I was ready to get back out there and really play defense and get more rebounds.”