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Whiteside, Heat defeat Rockets

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The Heat never trailed against the 40-18 Rockets.

NBA: Miami Heat at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat started their improbable 13-game winning streak against the Houston Rockets Jan. 17. And after Miami suffered two losses against sub-.500 teams, the Heat faced the superior Western Conference team Wednesday,

No matter. The Heat decisively out-hustled the Rockets, building a 20-point lead and never trailing in their 117-109 victory over Houston to go into the All-Star break feeling buoyant. Miami played one of their better games of the season against a very good team, and their comfortable lead allowed them to withstand a late flurry of Ryan Anderson 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

Hassan Whiteside put together a workmanlike performance, easily getting post position for easy buckets from the opening tip. The Heat center finished with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, 14 rebounds and five blocks — including a crucial rejection on a Ryan Anderson point-blank attempt after Houston pulled within 12. Whiteside’s footwork was exquisite, and he showed how he can become a reliable offensive threat.

Miami returned to their play from the 13-game winning streak, when several players contributed to quality wins. Dion Waiters scored 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field, including hitting four 3-pointers. Waiters flirted with a triple-double, also collecting nine rebounds and eight assists on the night. His shooting helped compensate for Dragic’s 0-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc.

And though Dragic struggled from long distance, he made several hard drives to the basket against the Rockets defense, finishing with 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting on two-point field goal attempts. Dragic’s ability to drive into the lane and arc a shot over a bigger defender was on full display Wednesday night, and he continued to improve upon his best season in a Heat uniform.

Tyler Johnson hit a 3-pointer shortly after coming into the game, and didn’t look back from then. The Heat combo guard finished with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, seven rebounds and four assists. On one second quarter possession, the Heat grabbed four offensive rebounds before Tyler Johnson swooped in to grab one final board and lay the ball in. Johnson later made a 3 that put Miami up 18 with eight minutes to go in the game. Quality plays like those two earn Johnson his money.

Miami went small in crunch time, using a three-guard lineup of Dragic, Johnson and Waiters. But the Heat’s starting small forward, Rodney McGruder, played well in his own right. McGruder defended James Harden from the start, and added 11 points, two assists and two steals in 27 minutes of action. McGruder sunk three 3-pointers Wednesday night, helping build the Heat’s lead when Houston was still struggling from beyond the arc. He may be a better fit as a backup in the NBA, but Miami found a true, quality defender and 3-point shooter from the D-League this season.

The Heat will continue their playoff push following a respite during All-Star weekend. The Heat will host the Indiana Pacers Feb. 25 for their next game.