Heat hope to stay hot at Nets
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Nearly six weeks ago, the Miami Heat withstood the elevation and turned on the defense in a "road win" over the Brooklyn Nets in Mexico City.
It began a run of 15 wins in 20 games for the Heat, who visit the Nets on Friday night at Barclays Center.
When the Heat took the court Dec. 9 they were two games under .500 at 11-13 and entered the game by allowing 100 points in five straight games. They wound up holding the Nets to 36 points in the second half of a 101-89 win and are allowing 98.4 points in their last 20 games.
Miami's defensive rating since then is 103.7 points per 100 possessions while limiting opponents to 44.9 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent from 3-point range.
Miami is putting this run together while dealing with a few injuries. They lost Dion Waiters to season-ending left ankle surgery and played without Tyler Johnson due to an ankle injury in Wednesday's 106-101 win at Milwaukee.
Johnson was injured in Monday's loss at Chicago. After getting examined Thursday in New York, tests confirmed a sprained ankle and Johnson will miss the game.
Without Johnson, the Heat rode a big night from Hassan Whiteside and their other big men Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk. Whiteside totaled 27 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks on 10 of 12 shooting in 31:41 while the trio combined for 47 points and 21 rebounds. After playing three games in December due to knee issues, Whiteside is averaging 14.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and shooting 58 percent in his last eight games.
"We got a lot of big men on this team," Whiteside said. "So, it's a lot different than it was in the past."
Whiteside did not play in the first meeting and finished with 17 points and eight rebounds Dec. 29 when Brooklyn recorded a 111-87 win at Miami. He scored nine points when Miami saw its seven-game winning streak stopped but netted 10 in the opening quarter and 11 more in the third.
"Hassan was the player of the game for us obviously," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He was a monster tonight and you could see it from his very first block. You could see it from his very first over the top rebound, you could see it from his very first drive that he was playing with a different aggressiveness.
"He knows what I'm going to say. I'm going to say, 'Hey, great job Big Fella. Do it again on Friday.'"
Whiteside and the Heat will try to do it again against a team who struggles to contain starting frontcourt players at times.
Brooklyn allowed San Antonio forward LaMarcus Aldridge to get 34 points in a 100-95 loss Wednesday and is on a five-game home losing streak. The Nets also are 1-6 in their last seven games after shooting 42.2 percent Wednesday.
During the five-game home losing streak, Brooklyn is averaging 93.5 points while allowing 104.6. The Nets are shooting 37.5 percent, resulting in a 90.4 offensive rating that might be worse if not for a 114-113 overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors Jan. 8.
The struggles are occurring as D'Angelo Russell is nearing a return from knee surgery. He had the surgery Nov. 17 and the Nets are 11-21 in the 32 games since Russell was originally injured on Nov. 11 at Utah.
Russell has been practicing recently and is listed as probable for Friday.
"The reports are excellent," Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. "I'm excited. It's trending in the right direction. I think we're getting close."
Spencer Dinwiddie has started for Russell but is slumping of late. Dinwiddie is averaging 15.1 points as he scored 31 against Toronto and 20 in a win at Atlanta on Friday.
Dinwiddie, however, was 3 of 13 from the field Wednesday. In his last five games, he is shooting 25.4 percent (16 of 63) and 16.1 percent (5 of 31) from 3-point range.
"For us to be a good team I can't play in that fashion. I have to make more shots," Dinwiddie said. "Is it something that people are doing? Not really. I just missed. I mean quite frankly it's not like I really feel like anybody can stop me.
"I just gotta make shots. I have to be better for our team to get wins. I can't be out there shooting -- I don't know whatever it is 20-something percent. Especially in those close games, it hurts because one shot here or there swings things and me leaving three, four, five shots on the board, it hurts so I have to apologize to my teammates on that."
Miami has won seven straight road meetings in the series, equaling its longest streak in the series.
Updated January 18, 2018