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Miami Heat find positives to build on after notching first win of NBA season

It wasn’t pretty at times, but the Heat got the job done in front of their home crowd.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat finally secured their first win of the NBA season by defeating the Toronto Raptors at home, 112-109, on Saturday night.

What looked like a one-sided contest in the third quarter after Miami built a 24-point advantage turned into a semi sweat-it-out affair as Toronto cut the lead down to single digits in the same period, forcing the main rotation pieces to put the finishing touches on what was a needed victory.

It was no coincidence that the Raptors’ run came following the ejection of Caleb Martin, who got into a skirmish with Toronto’s Christian Koloko. Both players were assessed technical fouls and tossed out of the game, but the momentum and pace shifted towards the visiting team’s side because of the incident.

With enough contributions from Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Max Strus, and some Tyler Herro, the Heat closed off any successful comeback in the final minutes to win the first of two consecutive home matches against their Atlantic division counterparts. Both squads will reconvene on Monday.

It’s been an odd start to this Heat season. They displayed a lot of promise in the preseason even with no major additions other than their developmental players while also trying to find a solution for the departure of PJ Tucker via internal development.

Against Chicago and Boston, both games at home, the lack of size proved detrimental for the Heat, who were inefficient from both ends of the floor. This was particularly magnified against the Celtics, the same opponent that beat them in the Eastern Conference Finals, who used their physical edge quite well in yesterday’s rematch.

The Raptors were a similar challenge given their collective combination of length, size, and speed. Miami caught a break when reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes left the game in the first half because of an ankle issue, further hindering what was already a shallow Toronto rotation.

Given how the Heat will play smaller lineups this season, their margin for error in terms of rotations and boxing out are slim, especially against talented adversaries who will hunt inferior one-on-one defenders.

The effort they displayed against the Raptors was more impressive than the last two contests, propelled a bit by their hot shooting start which allowed the defense to set-up rather than play catch-up in transition and against cross-matches.

Miami made an effort to attempt more shots at the rim. That penetration led to kick outs for three-balls, an efficient change from the mid-range heavy offense they were playing with in the last few days.

When the long balls went in early, that rhythm carried the team the rest of the way. The Heat shot 50% from the field, hit 11-of-30 from outside, and converted 25-of-27 from the charity stripe. The turnovers remain a problem (15 today), but Erik Spoelstra’s squads have historically trended towards better ball security as the regular season progresses.

Kyle Lowry had his second straight impressive performance, easing worries that what we saw out of him against Chicago would be the norm.

It seems as if Spoelstra is still tinkering with rotational patterns but playing Lowry and Gabe Vincent together has its pros, especially because both guys can get inside the arc and create shot opportunities for themselves or others. That will come in handy for a team that can stall on offense when the main guys go a little too isolation-heavy.

Strus was superb in a complementary role. His help defense was important as well for a team that likes to negate size disadvantages with timely double teams and recovery rotations.

It wasn’t a perfect win for Miami and the issues that remain in roster construction and matchups against certain teams will be present until changes are made, if any will be coming. It’s going to be interesting to find out what Victor Oladipo and Omer Yurtseven can provide once they’re healthy.

But compared to how they looked during their 0-2 start, there’s finally some positive progress for this Heat team.