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Heat hold off Rockets 101-99 for third straight win

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Tyler Johnson, who started at point guard, hit a big 3-pointer.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat were appearing to fall apart in the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets. After building an 11-point lead with 9:14 left in the game, Miami picked the worst possible time to miss nine straight field goal attempts. The Rockets took a 92-91 lead with 4:26 left to go.

That was before Tyler Johnson made his mark on the game.

Johnson made a layup to end the Heat’s fourth-quarter drought. On Houston’s subsequent possession, he blocked a layup attempt from James Harden to ignite a fast-break opportunity. Johnson then made a deep 3 to put the Heat up 96-92 with 2:45 left.

After Dwyane Wade missed a potential game-sealing floater, the Rockets had one chance to tie or win the game with 3.8 seconds left. Harden passed the ball to Eric Gordon, who missed a 3-pointer as time expired.

For the first time this season, the Heat have now won three straight games. (The Heat also snapped a Rockets five-game winning streak coming into Thursday’s game.) And Miami is coming off a 4-2 West coast road trip. After starting the season with a 7-13 record, the Heat are playing their best basketball of the season.

Now, the Rockets played on the second night of a back-to-back and lost Chris Paul in the second quarter. But the Heat came into this game without Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow, leaving Spoelstra to start Tyler Johnson at point guard.

Josh Richardson led Miami with 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field, including four makes from downtown. The Heat’s best two-way player also picked up six rebounds and seven assists, picking up the offensive slack in a way he hasn’t consistently done this season. Some of his best moments came during the third quarter, when the Heat outscored Houston 28-19.

As they did during their West Coast road trip, the Heat also utilized a 2-3 zone defense to their advantage against the Rockets. Despite their penchant for 3-point shooting, Houston’s players sometimes looked flummoxed against Miami’s zone defense. Just as Miami had their dry spells in the first and third quarters — the Heat fell down by as many as 16 points early on — Houston also went through some droughts of their own.

Derrick Jones Jr. continued his impressive play from the road trip. Jones played 27 minutes off the bench — the most of any reserve — and soared in the air for 15 points and eight rebounds. Jones used his athleticism to make 11 trips to the foul line, making eight. That was better than one could say for many other players wearing Heat jerseys; Miami went 20-34 from the line Thursday. Hassan Whiteside even air-balled an attempt in the midst of the Heat’s fourth-quarter woes.

Miami’s game Thursday night also saw James Johnson take a leap forward with some impressive play during Miami’s dominant third quarter. He played aggressively with the basketball in his hands, something he hasn’t done this year. Johnson scored seven points in the third period, finishing with 11 overall. But even with that flurry of activity, Spoelstra opted to use Jones as the Heat’s power forward in crunch time.

The Heat will host the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday at 8 p.m.