Five takeaways from Heat-Wizards: It was a close call, but Miami held on for first quality win of the season

WASHINGTON — The Heat have already had too many second-half meltdowns this season.

Friday felt like it was going to be another one, as the Wizards cut the Heat’s 21-point halftime lead all the way down to one point with 11.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. But Miami (7-8) found a way to hang on for a 91-88 victory over Washington (9-6) at Capital One Arena.

The Wizards had a chance to force overtime with the ball down by just two points, but guard Bradley Beal missed a 17-foot jumper with 2.6 seconds remaining. Justise Winslow grabbed the rebound to seal the win.

“It was pretty harrowing,” said a relieved coach Erik Spoelstra just two days after the Heat lost to the Wizards 102-93 in Miami on Wednesday. “But, look, nothing is guaranteed in this league, but the process that this team is committed to, I respect that. To come in yesterday, on a work day, to really spend a lot of time trying to fix some of the things that we’re going through. We have a long ways to go, but the last 24 hours was a step in the right direction, just in terms of our approach to get better.”

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) dribbles the ball against Miami Heat forward James Johnson (16) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Heat entered the game as the seventh-worst second-half team in the league, as they had been outscored by a combined total of 47 points over the final two quarters this season. Washington outscored Miami 59-41 in the second half Friday, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Heat’s first-half dominance.

Miami’s offense wasn’t good in the win, but its defense was spectacular. The Heat limited star guard John Wall to eight points on 3-of-12 shooting and held the Wizards to 38.1 percent shooting.

Heat forward James Johnson turned in one of his best performances of the season with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. Center Hassan Whiteside finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds.

It was not a good shooting night for Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and Dion Waiters. The trio combined to shoot 8-of-34 from the field.

Here are our five takeaways …

The Heat’s defense is good: The Heat played some quality defense Friday. Miami limited a potent Wizards offense, which entered ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, to 88 points on 38.1 percent shooting. A big part of the Heat’s success came down to defending the Washington backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall and Beal combined for 34 points on 35.3 percent shooting Friday after totaling 53 points in Wednesday’s win over Miami. The Heat entered the game ranked 11th in defensive efficiency, and Friday’s performance will move them even further up that list.

“Just in terms of the competitiveness, that has to be a staple for this team,” Spoelstra said. “We probably won’t be one of those teams that’s scoring 130, 140 when you look at the scores at night, but we can be a team that can make it very tough on you defensively. We can be physical.”

There’s James Johnson: After a slow start to the season, Johnson finally looked like the player that earned a $60 million contract last season. Johnson finished with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, five rebounds and four assists. Maybe the most encouraging number on the 30-year-old’s stat line was his 14 shot attempts. Entering Friday’s contest, Johnson was playing a passive brand of basketball with an average of 5.8 shots over the past four games. This was a much-needed performance from the Heat’s versatile forward, as his recent struggles had him saying: “I’m killing myself every night, every day. It’s just been terrible performances out of me and not just from an offensive standpoint, the defense.” But there’s no doubt the Heat were a better team with Johnson on the court Friday.

“It’s nice to play without thinking,” Johnson said. “All these guys believe in me. My teammates, they want it and need it from me. It’s just stepping up, you know. Like I said it wasn’t my character these last two games. Tonight you guys got to see it.”

Justise Winslow shows flashes of offensive potential: Winslow made the most of 24 seconds in the second quarter. He started his impressive spurt with a tip-in dunk on a Wayne Ellington missed 3-pointer with 4:58 remaining in the first half. And just 24 seconds later, the 21-year-old Winslow pulled out a beautiful Eurostep move in transition for a layup. This short stretch didn’t include any outside shots. Instead, it showed what Winslow does best on the offensive end — attack the basket. Winslow finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.

“It was great,” Winslow said of that sequence. “Those are the type of plays I’m trying to make. Whether its a dunk, euro, block, those are the type of plays to get the whole team going. That’s why I try to do, those energy plays to try to spark the team, get us into that flow.”

Free-throw watch: After all of the talk surrounding the foul call discrepancy between the Heat and their opponents, Miami didn’t get to the free-throw line any more than usual Friday. The Heat shot just 18 free throws, which is actually a tick down from their average of 18.7 free throws per game. That’s the third-lowest number in the league. But the key is that Washington didn’t get to the line much either. The Wizards shot 16 free throws. It marked just the third time this season the Heat have attempted more free throws than their opponent over the first 15 games of the season.

First “quality” win: It took a month, but the Heat finally earned a “quality” win. Friday’s victory over the Wizards marked Miami’s first of the season over a team that currently has a winning record. Before defeating Washington, the Heat’s first six wins came against teams that entered Friday with a combined 28-58 record. On the other side, Miami’s eight losses have come against teams with a combined 78-39 record. The Heat, obviously, need more “quality” wins if they want to be more than just a .500 squad. Miami will have a chance to stack some of these victories on top of each other, with games against the Celtics and Timberwolves coming up over the next week.

[Erik Spoelstra says there’s no need for Heat to make roster move after Okaro White’s injury]

[Why haven’t Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk played together since the opener?]

[Heat frustrated by foul call discrepancy, but Erik Spoelstra won’t let his players use it as excuse]

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