Going .500 on road trip lifts Heat
Team beginning to look like Spoelstra expected after tough West swing.
The Heat would have
DETROIT — preferred to return home from their longest road trip of the season feeling better about Sunday’s game. But looking at the big picture, Miami will take splitting six games, especially when five of those were against teams from out West.
The Heat (6-7) now get back to familiar surroundings to start
another challenging stretch. Miami faces Washington twice — at home Wednesday and in D.C. Friday — before home games against Indi
ana and Boston next week.
“We finally get to go back home for a little bit,” Josh Richardson said.
“We definitely can take advantage ... rest a little bit and get ready to go again.”
Miami has not had the start to the season it expected, but this trip was far more successful than its longest of the 2016-17 season (1-5), and the team showed some growth.
The Heat started to look like the team we’ve become accustomed to seeing under coach Erik Spoelstra. The pace slowed, which is more to their style, and the defense picked up.
“We would have loved to finish
above .500 but we took a lot of good things away that we can use,” Tyler Johnson said.
“Defensively is where we figured some things out. We kind of took maybe like a half step back (against Detroit) as far as our defensive pressure a nd i ntensity, but that doesn’t take away from they’re a good team and they have the record they have (10-3) for a reason. But I think defensively and just figuring out where our identity is, I think that’s where we made the most strides.”
Miami wilted during the second half of Sunday’s 112-103 loss to the Pistons, perhaps more a product of fatigue from being on the road for 11 days and thinking about finally getting back home.
The Pistons scored 57 points and shot 53.8 percent in the second half, overcoming an 11-point third-quarter deficit.
“I feel like I’m getting off punishment,” said Hassan Whiteside, who made it clear he was anxious to get on the plane. “It feels like we’ve been on the road for two months now. It’s going to be good to sleep in your own bed and get to see your house and get back in front of Heat fans.”
Even with the second-half hiccup in Detroit, Miami ended the six games allowing 99.0 points per game while its opponents shot 41.6 percent. Miami also has the sixth-best defensive rating, at 99.9, since the start of the trip.
Compare those numbers in the last six games to the first seven of the season, six of which were at home. Miami gave up 106.6 points per game while opponents shot 45.9 percent. Miami was 17th in the league with a defensive rating of 104.9.
The defensive highlights of the trip: Holding the jug- gernaut Warriors to season lows of 97 points and 36.8 percent shooting (the prob- lem was the Heat could manage just 80 points in the loss). And limiting Utah to 5.6 percent shooting (1 of 18) in the third quarter and 12.1 percent (4 of 33) in the second half to overcome a 12-point halftime deficit for a throw - back 84-74 victory.
“When you’re on the road, the team gets closer, you hang out together,” Goran
Dragic said. “When you’re at home, you have different types of (distractions). But here you only think about basketball. We hang out a lot. We talk a lot. Yeah, we finished 3-3. If you look at the first one in Denver (95
94 loss), we could have finished 4-2. It’s a tough one to swallow.
“But it was a good road DETROIT — Udonis Haslem trip.” is feeling pretty good about
The Heat continue to hover his hometown football team around .500, which is not ... and it’s not the Miami Dol- alarming this early in the seaphins. son. But at some point, they Haslem got to watch the will have to start winning at University of Miami destroy a greater rate to prove the Notre Dame, 41-8,Saturday growth they showed during night with his son, Kedonis, the second half of last seaa freshman offensive line- son will carry over to this man on the Toledo football season. team. Haslem met his son in
That won’t be easy, at least Toledo after the Heat landed not in the immediate future. in Detroit.
After playing three of the The only thing that surnext four at home, Miami prised Udonis was the ease has another daunting stretch of Miami’s victory. with seven of the next nine “I figured they’d win,” games on the road. Haslem said. “I didn’t know
“We grew. We took steps how bad it would be. I mean, forward. We got better as a it’s a very important game. A team,” said Dion Waiters, lot of history in that game. I who missed two games of think UM came out and took the trip, returning home it personally, which they to witness the birth of his should have.” daughter. “It’s early. We’ve Haslem, the Heat captain, got a chance to make cor- was a member of the Univerrections right now. sity of Florida’s NCAA Final
“Just keep moving forFour team of 2000 that lost ward. We’re getting better. the championship game to We’re moving in the right Michigan State. While he direction.” remains a Gator, he still roots for the college team he followed as a kid growing up in Miami.
“I hate to say it but the Hurricanes were almost as big as the Dolphins,” he said. “People like the Dolphins, of course, and I’m a big Dolphins fan, but people were like Hurricanes first and then Dolphins second. (That) is kind of like how it was growing up.
“It’s big, man. I think the city has been waiting for those guys to get back on top and bring that swagger back to the team and to the city. Start by getting those hometown kids and continue to get it going.”
Haslem spared Heat assistant Chris Quinn, a Notre Dame graduate who played for the Irish from 2002-03 to 2005-06, any grief ... for now. Quinn also spent parts of six seasons in the NBA, three of those with the Heat where he was Haslem’s teammate.
“I didn’t get on Quinn as hard as I could. We’ve got one game left,” Haslem said, referring to the Dec. 2 ACC title game, where the Hurricanes will face Clemson.
“We have to take care of business.”
Despite a 6-7 record, Erik Spoelstra says Heat are developing their identity.
Heat forward James Johnson (left) dunks the ball against Pistons forward Eric Moreland during the first half Sunday in Detroit.