Five takeaways: Heat start long homestand with much needed blowout win over Grizzlies

Miami Heat Justise Winslow wrestles with Memphis Grizzlies Mario Chalmers for the ball in the second quarter of Saturday’s game at the AmericanAirlines Arena. (Miami Herlad photo/Charles Trainor Jr.).

MIAMI – If ever the Miami Heat needed an easy a win, Saturday was the time.

Having lost 7-of-8 games and coming dangerously close to dropping out of the playoff picture in the East, Miami routed the hapless Memphis Grizzlies, 115-89, at AmericanAirlines Arena for their largest victory of the season.

The Heat (31-29) took advantage of playing one of the few teams in the league struggling as much as they were. Memphis (18-40) has now lost nine straight and 11 of 12. Miami’s two biggest wins have come against the Grizzlies, including a 107-82 win in Memphis on Dec. 11.

“It’s kind of a relief a little bit,” Goran Dragic said. “The last 17 games have been close games. Finally, we put together a great game where we were up 20 points, started the homestand well. Hopefully we’ll continue that Tuesday.”

The Heat, who won for just the fourth time in their last 14 games, now are two games ahead of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra finally got a chance to empty his bench with Udonis Haslem seeing his first action since Dec. 29.

Tyler Johnson led the Heat with a game high 23 points. Justise Winslow, who was in his worst funk of the season the last five games, scored a season-high 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

The Grizzlies, who entered the night with the sixth-worst record in the league, were without their four best players: Mike Conley (heel), Chandler Parsons (illness), Tyreke Evans (rib) and Marc Gasol (rest).

Miami  is awaiting the return of big man Kelly Olynyk, who missed his sixth straight game because of a shoulder strain, and swingman Rodney McGruder, who is on a two-game assignment with Sioux Falls, the Heat’s developmental league team. McGruder played his first  game of the season late Saturday for Sioux Falls and is expected to make his Heat season debut either Tuesday or Thursday.

The Heat held a pregame tribute to the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland on Feb. 14 with a moment of silence and video honoring the 17 people who were killed. Dwyane Wade addressed the crowd and saluted the school’s students.

“We applaud the fearless students that are fighting for their lives,” he said. “We also make sure that their voices are heard around gun safety. You are our nation’s inspiration. We salute you and we support you.”

Here are our five takeaways:

Finally, a blowout: The Heat entered Saturday having played in a franchise-record 17 consecutive games decided by single digits (5-12), which was just three shy of the NBA record of 20 set by the Pacers in the 1982-83 season. Miami’s last three losses – at Toronto, Philadelphia and New Orleans – were by a combined six points. Against Memphis, Miami opened a 22-point lead in the third quarter and cruised home. The Heat led by double digits for the final 21:25.

“We will take it,” Spoelstra said. “But we certainly weren’t expecting it. The way things have been going we expected this one to go down to the end. They’re in a totally different situation than we are in. They sat out most of their guys. But for us it’s still about building habits. I was pleased with the approach of our guys and even though they’re undermanned playing a lot of young guys, still building habits of holding them to 18 and 19 in the third and fourth quarters respectively, it’s something we talked about and were able to do it so that was good to see.”

Sticking with Winslow pays off: Spoelstra stuck with the struggling Winslow in the starting lineup and the power forward had his best game of the season. Winslow entered averaging 3.4 points and shooting 19.2 percent in his last five games. He was shooting 25.0 percent in February, which was last in the NBA among the 187 players who have attempted at least 50 shots. But Winslow was aggressive and as confident going to the basket as he has been in a long time. He made 7-of-12 shots, including 2-of-3 on 3 pointers.

“It hasn’t been easy for him this year what we’ve asked of him,” Spolelstra said. “I can appreciate that, I can understand that. His role has changed probably more than anybody on that roster. I like it when he’s aggressive on the attack. His finishes were a lot better tonight and he’s really been working it. He did some nice things defensively as well.”

Tyler Johnson sets the tone: Johnson’s point total was his most this calendar year, or since recording 31 on Dec. 30 in Orlando. Johnson has been out of synch since missing five games in mid-January with an ankle injury, averaging 9.7 points while shooting just 39 percent in 11 games since returning. But Saturday was different, Johnson was attacking the rim and got to the free throw line nine times, making all nine. He also mixed in the jumper, going 2 of 6 on 3 pointers. Johnson set the tone with 11 points in the first 7:43.

“We want him to be aggressive,” Dragic said. “We always emphasize that’s his game. He’s at his best when he attacks and he did tonight. He started the game really well for us. He kind of gave us that energy at the beginning of the game and we just followed.”

Tightening up the defense: After allowing New Orleans to score 124 points in a one-point overtime loss Friday, Miami started slow Saturday, giving up 31 first-quarter points while watching the Grizzlies shoot .591 (13 of 22). But Miami started to clamp down in the second quarter and Memphis shot 36.6 percent (15 of 41) in the second and third quarters as the Heat put the game out of reach.

“After losing a tough one (Friday) in overtime on the road to come back tonight. …” Wade said. “(We) didn’t start off the game great but after we got into it, played a great game and that’s what it’s all about. We’ve lost a few tough ones since I’ve been here. … to be able to come back and put (Friday) behind you. Coach had us upstairs learning from the things we did wrong, figuring out ways we could be better, all of us, from top to bottom and then come out and understand we had to get this win. We’re at home, we got a team that has guys down, we got to get this win.”

Home is where the Heat is: The victory over Memphis started a stretch of five consecutive home games and 7 of 8 at AmericanAirlinesArena. But Miami must take advantage of the favorable schedule to gain breathing room in the playoff standings. Miami is just 15-12 at home but three of the next four home games are against teams with sub .500 records. And two of the next five, including Tuesday, are against the 76ers, the team Miami is chasing for the seventh seed in the East.

[Heat are playing in a lot of close games. Is this a good thing? Let Dwyane Wade explain]

[A look at the uniform patch the Miami Heat will wear to support Marjory Stoneman Douglas]

[Dwyane Wade has needed adjustment period to get used to Heat way: ’It’s been like training camp all over again’]

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