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Without Waiters, Heat defeat Bucks to extend win streak

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Hassan Whiteside had 23 points and 16 rebounds.

NBA: Miami Heat at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat’s 3-point shot didn’t fall Wednesday night. Dion Waiters, who has helped propel the Heat’s current improbable win streak, sat out with an ankle injury.

It didn’t matter. Miami raced out to a 17-2 lead against the Milwaukee Bucks — the last team to defeat the Heat — securing a lead they would never relinquish in a 106-88 decision. Although the Bucks made a few mini-runs throughout the game, Miami always responded to stay in control of the game.

The Heat opened 2-for-11 on their 3-point attempts, but Hassan Whiteside dominated the first half with alley-oop dunks. The Heat center finished with 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and 16 rebounds. Whiteside benefitted from Heat perimeter players drawing help defense after driving into the lane, giving him high-percentage shots.

Waiters’ backcourt mate, Goran Dragic, catalyzed the Heat’s 17-2 run to start the game with disciplined drives to the basket. Dragic deftly avoided Bucks’ traps on pick-and-roll plays, hitting floaters in the lane or finding open teammates Wednesday night. He finished with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, four rebounds and seven assists. The one blemish for Dragic? Five turnovers, including a couple head-scratching mishaps.

Miami didn’t have one player compensate for Waiters’ production Wednesday night. Rodney McGruder, James Johnson and Wayne Ellington left their marks on the game. McGruder finished with 10 points, six rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes of action, including some disciplined defensive play on All-Star starter Giannis Antetotounmpo and great hustle to give Miami extra possessions. In one third-quarter sequence, McGruder ran baseline for a dunk over John Henson before hitting a 3-pointer on the Heat’s subsequent possession.

Johnson had 20 points off the bench in 30 minutes, and his ball-handling ability was especially needed in Waiters’ absence. He shot 7-of-12 from the field and collected four rebounds and four steals. In the final two minutes of the third quarter, Johnson made two layups, one of which he turned into a three-point play, and assisted on another Heat basket. That string of good play put the Heat up 18 heading into the fourth quarter. Miami may not have made a big run after starting the game 17-2, but put together enough of these little bursts of energy to demoralize the Bucks. Johnson has made those types of plays all year long.

Wayne Ellington, who started in place of Waiters, stood as the only Heat player who shot well from beyond the arc. (Well, that might not be true. Backup center Willie Reed hit a buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the first quarter for his first career 3-pointer.) Ellington hit a 3 with 3:55 left to go after the Bucks, with Michael Beasley leading the way, trimmed a Heat fourth-quarter lead from 20 to 12. The former North Carolina swingman finished with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-8 from downtown, and an incredible +23 in his 28 minutes of action.

The Heat will go for 13 straight wins Friday against the Brooklyn Nets.