MIAMI — The Magic entered on an eight-game losing streak and Heat center Hassan Whiteside returned from injury.
It was supposed to be easy. But it wasn’t.
The Heat (18-16) rallied from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to defeat the struggling and shorthanded Magic 107-89 on Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami closed the game on a 60-32 run to make it look easier than it was against Orlando (11-24).
Whiteside finished with seven points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes in his return after missing 13 consecutive games with a bone bruise on his left knee. He spent the final 17 minutes and eight seconds of the game on the bench.
While Whiteside was off the court down the stretch, Josh Richardson (20 points, seven rebounds and five assists) and Wayne Ellington (18 points) powered the Heat’s late-game charge. Richardson scored 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Ellington scored 12 points on four made 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
“It’s always fun when it goes the way it did,” Ellington said. “We got a spark and we never looked back.”
Elfrid Payton led Orlando with 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
The Heat won without Dion Waiters (sprained left ankle), James Johnson (right ankle bursitis), Justise Winslow (strained left knee), Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) and Okaro White (left foot surgery).
Here are our five takeaways …
The tough (and injured) Goran Dragic: The Heat have their starting point guard back from injury, but he’s not himself yet. Dragic has admitted he still feels pain in his sore left (shooting) elbow, and it’s shown on the court. But he’s playing through the pain and it paid off against the Magic, as he finished with 14 points, four rebounds and six assists. Dragic missed 11 of his first 13 shots, but he remained aggressive to make four of his final five shots. In the two games he’s played since returning from the elbow injury, Dragic is shooting 33.3 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from 3-point range. He won’t make excuses for those shooting struggles, but it’s clear that Dragic’s sore shooting elbow is still bothering him.
“Oh, he’s a winner. He’s not going to stop, either,” Spoelstra said of Dragic fighting through his injury and shooting woes. “That must be so unnerving, being on the other side of it. In the third quarter, he was just relentless — on both ends. I thought he defended really well, with a lot of energy. He was making a lot of plays. He got some deflections. But his ball pressure also ignited our team’s energy. And then when you have Goran in the open court, making plays and drives, he’s special. He’s special to see.”
Cleaning up the turnovers: After committing nine turnovers over the first 16 minutes of the game, the Heat cleaned up their game to commit eight turnovers over the final 32 minutes. While limiting its own turnovers, Miami took advantage of Orlando’s sloppy play. The Heat scored 18 points off 17 Magic turnovers. Miami’s ability to play clean basketball down the stretch was a big reason for its second-half surge.
The Whiteside-Olynyk frontcourt: Whether it was because of an injury-depleted roster or because Spoelstra really wanted to give this “big” frontcourt another opportunity, the Heat used a starting lineup that featured 7-footers Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk. It marked the first time Whiteside and Olynyk have played together since Miami’s season-opening loss to Orlando. The Heat were outscored by eight points in the 10 minutes they were on the court at the same time in that game. But the results were more positive Tuesday, as Miami outscored Orlando by six points in the 14 minutes Whiteside and Olynyk played together. Olynyk, who played as a power forward next to Whiteside, even used his size advantage to score four points from post-ups over 6-foot-8 Mario Hezonja over the first few minutes of the game. Now the question is, will the Heat play Whiteside and Olynyk together when James Johnson and Justise Winslow return from injury?
“I hope I have some of these tough decisions now, where we have great options and guys that can produce, guys that are comfortable,” Spoelstra said of the rotation decisions he will have to make with the Heat’s frontcourt now that players are returning from injury. “That’s the way it should be. To do what we want to do, it should be very competitive for minutes, and guys shouldn’t just be gifted minutes, but expected to produce. I think it’ll all work out, because of the skill set. I just need to figure out what the best fits are for each guy.
“Right now, I think it’s easy to see that Bam and K.O. is really a fun dynamic. They play well off each other. Guys like playing with those two guys. Their skill sets complement each other. So we’ll be able to build on the other ones, as well.”
Heat figure out Magic formula: The Magic have recorded 40 wins since the start of last season, and four of them have come against the Heat. Miami had dropped four straight against Orlando, with the Magic winning the season series 3-1 last year and also defeating the Heat 116-109 on Oct. 18 in this year’s season opener. But the Heat finally solved the Magic riddle, beating Orlando on Tuesday for the first time since the 2016-17 season-opener on Oct. 26, 2016. Miami didn’t defeat a healthy Orlando team, though. The Magic played without three starters — Terrence Ross (sprained right MCL), Nikola Vučević (fractured left hand) and Aaron Gordon (strained right calf). But considering how things have gone against Orlando, Miami will take it.
More winnable games ahead: The Heat need to keep taking advantage of this soft spot in their schedule. Miami is 2-1 on its current four-game homestand. Four of the Heat’s next five games will be played at AmericanAirlines Arena, with three of those games coming against losing teams — the Magic, Nets and Jazz. Once the Heat get through this favorable upcoming five-game stretch, 11 road games in a span of 14 games awaits them. The time to take advantage of the schedule is now.