Early in the third quarter of the Miami Heat’s season opener Oct. 26 against the Orlando Magic, Elfrid Payton drove down the lane and released a layup attempt. Hassan Whiteside jumped and cuffed the ball in mid-air, igniting a Heat fast break. Three seconds later, Goran Dragic had made a layup on the other end of the floor.
It was just the type of play Miami will need to make some noise this season. And it was just the type of play the earned the Heat their sixth consecutive opening night win.
Miami dominated the second half against the hosting Orlando Magic Wednesday night, building up a 19-point lead several times before holding on to a 108-96 victory. Six players scored in double figures for the Heat, exhibiting the type of balanced scoring the Heat will need this season.
This win was notable because of how the Heat won it. After Dragic picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter, Whiteside and Dion Waiters led a Heat run to pull away. A highlight came with 31 seconds left in the third, when Whiteside — oft-criticized for his lack of passing — made a nice pass to Rodney McGruder out of the post for a layup.
And then to open the fourth quarter, Erik Spoelstra had Whiteside and Dragic on the bench. But the Heat made three dunks to open the final stanza of play, with Tyler Johnson’s facial on Jeff Green earning enthused cheers from the Miami bench. By the end of the game, a couple “Let’s go Heat!” chants erupted in Orlando.
Whiteside scored eight of his 18 points in the pivotal third quarter, and also added 14 rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes. The Heat’s maximum-salary center showcased a nice repertoire, making a nice drop-step move in the fourth quarter and ending the game with a good move to free himself for an alley-oop dunk. He went 0-for-4 from the foul line, but Whiteside had a great start to the 2016-17 season.
The player who set up Whiteside for the alley-oop dunk to end the game was Dragic, and he also played well. The veteran point guard shook off a shaky start to finish with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field, six rebounds and six assists. Dragic made some nice drives to the basket for scores in a competitive second quarter, keeping the Heat in the game.
Miami’s balanced scoring didn’t stop with their two highest-paid active players. Justise Winslow chipped in with 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting, eight rebounds and four assists. If this Heat team has a “Big Three,” it is Whiteside, Dragic and Winslow, and they all had good nights tonight.
In addition to his highlight dunk, Tyler Johnson put together a great game. He had 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. With a little more than a minute to go and Orlando within 10, Johnson played two-way basketball to seal the deal. He played good defense to knock the ball from Evan Fournier, and then chased after the loose ball for a breakaway dunk on the other end. That’s winning basketball.
Willie Reed proved himself to be more than capable as a backup center to Whiteside with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and six boards, finishing around the rim with ease. McGruder, the only rookie on the team, was a +15 in his 23 minutes of action. Though he shot 4 of 13 from the field, Dion Waiters showcased an ability to get to the rim and collected four assists.
The Heat will hold their home opener Oct. 28 against the Charlotte Hornets.