Somehow, the Heat scored 100 points in the afternoon and held off the NBA-worst Chicago Bulls, 100-93. Miami also won their third consecutive game, the first time they’ve strung together three wins all season. And Sunday’s win took the Heat to 10-9, the first time they’ve been above .500 since the third game of the season.
Fortunately for the Heat, the Bulls only scored 13 points in the first quarter — Miami didn’t have a huge deficit after their putrid first period. The Heat took the lead in the second thanks to a 38-point outburst in that quarter, Miami’s best second period of the season.
The game was still tight, though, after the Heat’s sub-par third quarter. James Johnson took over in the fourth period, continuing his improved, aggressive play that started with Miami’s Nov. 17 win over the Washington Wizards. He exploited matchups and easily found his way into the lane to keep the Bulls at bay.
Johnson finished with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, seven rebounds, six assists and two blocks. And Miami needed Johnson, because several other players were disengaged Sunday night.
Erik Spoelstra benched both Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters for the entire fourth quarter. Whiteside was hobbled with his knee injury and didn’t move as quickly as he usually does. Still, it was puzzling to see Spoelstra stay with Kelly Olynyk, who doesn’t offer nearly as much rim protection as an injured Whiteside. Olynyk did have a nice pass to Goran Dragic here with the game still close.
As for Waiters, the Heat’s shooting guard shot just 2-for-10 from the field, including 1-of-6 from downtown. Wayne Ellington (five 3-pointers on the night, another time he made all three free throws after getting fouled on a 3) and Tyler Johnson (10 points, five rebounds, two blocks) both played better than him, so I don’t have an issue with benching Waiters.
Dragic finished with a team-high 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, including 4-for-7 shooting from downtown. Dragic also made seven trips to the foul line, making six of those shots. The Chicago defense tried to prevent Dragic and Waiters from getting to the basket, sinking into the perimeter when one of them drove to the basket. Dragic’s jumper was working for him, so he was able to adjust and have a nice night. Waiters was less successful, missing two corner 3s in the third quarter before Spoelstra yanked him for the rest of the game.
Though he only had four points, Justise Winslow had eight rebounds in 19 minutes and offered some strong defensive plays when other Heat players were just going through the motions. Spoelstra may want to try to see if he can play Winslow and James Johnson together; it would hurt to have the veteran Johnson stifle Winslow’s development.
The Heat will next face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday at 7 p.m.