Five takeaways from Heat-Mavericks: Hassan Whiteside makes difference with big performance

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) works against Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) for a shot-attempt in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

There can be lessons learned from every loss, especially the heartbreaking ones.

After squandering a 16-point third-quarter lead in a loss to the Nets on Jan. 19 and allowing a 12-point fourth-quarter lead slip away in a loss to the Kings on Thursday, the Heat were put in a similar position in Dallas.

The Mavericks ate into an 18-point fourth quarter Heat lead to cut it to three with 44 seconds to play, but this time Miami found a way to hang on. The Heat (29-21) overcame their late-game struggles to earn a 95-88 win over the Mavericks (16-35) to open a four-game trip Monday at American Airlines Center.

“This is the best scenario for us, for our team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of hanging on for the win despite giving up the big lead. “Certainly I would have liked to extend that lead. But if you have an opportunity to go through all of the emotions and have to really dig in, show some grit defensively on the road and then find a way to execute, we have to continue to get better with that.

“But when you come out of it with a win and the lessons, that’s a double whammy for us. Look, we say it all the time, I don’t care who you’re playing in this league, it is not easy to win on the road. To start the road trip off like this is good.”

Center Hassan Whiteside led the charge with 25 points, 14 rebounds and two assists. Josh Richardson contributed 14 points, three assists, two steals and four blocks.

The Mavericks struggled offensively, shooting 38.4 percent. Harrison Barnes led Dallas with 20 points.

The Heat move on to face the Cavaliers on Wednesday in the second game of their four-game trip. Miami is one game behind Cleveland for third-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Here are our five takeaways …

Don’t give up on Hassan Whiteside: It’s been an up-and-down season for Hassan Whiteside. He’s playing less minutes than expected and his production has been inconsistent. But Monday was one of those nights the Heat really needed their $98 million center. Against the undersized Mavericks that start Dirk Nowitzki at center, Whiteside finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes. Miami outscored Dallas by 11 points with Whiteside on the court. It’s these type of games that show Whiteside’s value to the Heat, but it also makes you wonder why there aren’t more of these big performances.

“You felt his presence from the very get-go,” Spoelstra said. “It’s all about now the consistency night in and night out. It’s not just Hassan, it’s our basketball team. … But he was tremendous tonight on both ends of the court. You really felt him. The offensive rebounding, those are extra possessions and those are multiple effort plays to be able to get to the ball. There were several of them that you didn’t think he had a chance to get to, but he made the extra bounce, extra jump, extra reach and then the vice grips to come down with it. It’s that kind of mentality. We just have to build on that.”

Whiteside pointed to a conversation with Spoelstra before Monday’s game as a positive factor that led to his standout stat line.

“It was good, man,” Whiteside said of the conversation. “You know me and Coach Spo talked. We talked for a really long time. It was like an hour talk. I think it was great, man. It was a really great talk between us and we both came better out of it.”

Want better Heat defense? Here you go: Miami wasn’t thrilled with its first-quarter defense against Dallas. But the Heat had to be happy with their defense the rest of the way. Miami limited Dallas to 62 points on 33.3 percent shooting over the final three quarters. This was a driving force behind the Heat’s win, as they outscored the Mavericks 73-62 after the first quarter. Miami entered with the league’s seventh-best defensive rating, and that continues to trend in the right direction.

The power of the 3-pointer: It shouldn’t be underestimated. The Heat used the power of the 3-pointer to their advantage in Dallas, outscoring the Mavericks 36-24 behind the arc. It’s been obvious this season that 3-pointers are a big part of Miami’s offense. The Heat shattered their record for 3-point shot attempts in a single season with 2,213 last year, which easily surpassed the previous mark of 1,865 set in 1996-97. But the Heat are on their way to setting a new record, as they are on pace to attempt 2,530 3-pointers this season.

Sticking with it … and it paid off: The Heat’s current starting lineup of Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic haven’t been great together. In fact, they’ve been pretty bad … until Monday’s game in Dallas. The Heat’s starting group entered with the second-worst plus-minus on the team among five-man lineups at minus-36 in 54 minutes this season. But it was a different story against the Mavericks, as Miami’s starting five outscored Dallas by 12 points in 17 minutes. Spoelstra said before Monday’s game that he wanted to give this lineup more time together, and now we see why.

“A lot of enthusiasm, you could hear their voices in this arena and a real intentional commitment to defend,” Spoelstra said of the starting lineup’s performance. “That has to be the identity of that group. Offense will come. The group will find ways to be efficient on that end. But first and foremost, you got to embrace being a great defensive unit. They showed that tonight.”

The road show continues: The Heat are in the middle of a 14-game stretch that includes 11 on the road. But Miami is almost done with this challenging part of its schedule. After Monday’s win over the Mavericks, the Heat are 7-4 during this stretch with just three road contests remaining before they return to Miami for a more favorable string of games that includes 10 of 14 at home. The Heat are 16-11 on the road this season, with only the Celtics, Warriors and Rockets posting a better road record. That’s a pretty good group to be a part of.

[Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr. sent to Sioux Falls to help conserve NBA days]

[Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle says Erik Spoelstra ‘should be on the All-Star team’]

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