Without Jimmy Butler, it was Kendrick Nunn who would carry the offensive load for the Heat. While both teams shot poorly to start, Nunn had the team’s first eight points.
Meyers Leonard also stepped up, scoring two beautiful threes and surging early in a revenge game.
With Portland struggling from the field, the Heat was able to go up eleven around the 6:30 mark. Portland would pull back a little bit with Damian Lillard hitting some tough looks, but it wouldn’t last.
James Johnson would see minutes for the first time in a long while, and immediately hit a three towards the end of the first quarter. With Johnson, Derrick Jones Jr. Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic all surging, the Heat was able to pull away early taking a 12 point lead into the second quarter.
Miami picked up immediately where they left off. James Johnson was a menace on defense turning some great plays into offensive buckets. Bam Adebayo also started to find his game, using his quickness to get through Whiteside for some solid buckets.
Miami really showed off their depth early on with everybody contributing on both ends. From Derrick Jones Jr. speeding around the court on defense, to James Johnson making a case for a permanent rotation spot on the offensive end. The Heat has a lot of good players who can carry an offensive load, that was on display tonight and will hopefully mark the end of the 8 man rotation who have been grinding since before the holidays.
Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore and Anfernee Simons worked to keep Portland alive on the offensive end, but their defense was weak, The allowed Miami to go on a 6-0 run and go up 18. The Heat wouldn’t stop there, with Goran Dragic slashing his was through the Portland defense to extend the lead and firing a spectacular alley-oop to Bam Adebayo to put an exclamation point on a strong half.
The Heat would take a 19 point lead into the second half.
Hassan Whiteside would help Portland find new life to start the third quarter, as he grabbed boards and put in some easy looks. That’s one thing that was never an issue for Hassan, he’ll always get his numbers, but sometimes at the cost of the team.
On the offensive end for the Heat, Bam led continuing to exploit the Blazers using his speed. Derrick Jones Jr. also wouldn’t give them a break, hammering down dunks as often as humanly possible.
Damian Lillard (though silent for much of the game) found his touch in the third leading Portland on a 11-2 run. They’d cut the deficit to single digits.
It was Derrick Jones Jr. who would keep Miami’s head above water doing a great job of carrying Miami’s offense during a scoring drought. Dragic and James Johnson also picked up the slack, slowing Portland’s run and re-setting the pace.
It’s worth pointing out how good James Johnson was tonight. He looked fast and strong, and was making all of the hustle plays that made him a huge threat in the 30-11 season. With Kelly slumping, Johnson made a very strong case for his minutes.
The Heat would head into the fourth quarter up 13 after an uneven quarter.
Dragic and Herro would get things started for the Heat, converting on some deep looks to keep Portland out of striking distance. Miami’s signature ball movement was on display, as was their strong defense.
Goran was spectacular on offense, showing why he was an All-Star a season ago. He’s such a strong scoring option for the Heat, easily one of its most essential pieces.
Damian Lillard and Hassan Whiteside made things uncomfortable for the Heat, but it seemed as if every time they scored Miami would hit their own look on the other end.
After a poor performance against Orlando, Tyler Herro was very good for Miami tonight. He was aggressive with his shot scoring in key moments. The rookie wall is real, but Herro is responding like a veteran.
As the quarter came to a close the Heat continued to push with Dragic running the offense and Derrick Jones Jr. continuing to dunk Portland to death. This is not the Portland team that went to the Western Conference Finals last season, obviously not having CJ McCollum contributed to their lack of scoring punch, but something is missing.
Still, this was a great bounce back game for the Heat without Jimmy after a forgettable loss against the Magic. Hopefully everybody is back to full strength next game.