Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 106-104 loss to the Toronto Raptors (26-10) on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
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1. One month after the Heat (16-17) lost to the Raptors by 10 points, Miami saw Wednesday’s game against Toronto as a test. The Heat lost again, but proved it’s made some big strides since its Nov. 25 loss against the Raptors.
Before Wednesday’s contest, Dwyane Wade shared an interesting anecdote about what he remembers from last month’s loss in Toronto. That game was decided by 10 points, but it was a more lopsided affair than the final score indicates with the Raptors leading by as many as 26 points.
“The thing that stood out the most from that game, period, is just the conversation we had in the locker room after the game,” Wade said. “Coach [Erik Spoelstra] was very candid with us that we had a lot of work to do and that we weren’t as good as Toronto. We had a lot of work to do before the next time we played them to see from a measuring stick where we’re at the next time we play them, and it was a month away from that game.
“He talked about that, he said: ‘Let’s see over this next month, how much better we can get.’”
The Heat definitely got better.
“Our game wasn’t ready to compete with them to be able to beat them at that time,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve really worked at improving and getting to another level. It was a good test tonight. It’s a shame that we weren’t able to come away with a win. Obviously, there were some really good things going on.”
Yes, Miami’s five-game winning streak was snapped by Toronto on Wednesday. But this one was decided by a shot or two. The Heat kept it competitive against the team with the league’s best record in a game that included a fourth quarter with 12 lead changes and four ties.
Yes, Toronto was without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry and center Jonas Valanciunas. But Miami was also without its starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters.
Ultimately, one Heat miscue on the defensive end helped decide this one. Miami left sharpshooter Danny Green wide open and he took advantage with a game-winning corner three with 22.7 seconds to play.
It completed Toronto’s comeback from a 17-point third-quarter deficit. The Raptors outscored the Heat 56-37 over the final 20:16 of the game.
“I think it definitely does [speak to the team’s progress since playing Toronto last],” Heat center Hassan Whiteside said. “Coach Spo really wanted to make an improvement by the time we played them again. I think we had this game. We were up a lot. They made a run at the end. They made big plays and big shots. Those were tough shots. I don’t think people realize how tough some of those shots were at the end. Danny Green got a wide open one at the end and knocked it down.”
There was definitely disappointment in the Heat’s locker room following Wednesday’s loss, but it came away knowing it played quality basketball once again. That’s something it’s been doing pretty consistently now for the past 13 games, as the Heat is now 9-4 during that stretch.
“We should have won this game tonight,” Wade said. “… That is a good team over there. I think we are at the point now where we feel like we are a good team. We have that confidence and that swagger, but we have to play good all the way through and we didn’t do that tonight.”
2. Justise Winslow continues to excel in the point guard role. He was the Heat’s best player in Wednesday’s fourth quarter, recording nine points on 4 of 5 shooting in the period. Winslow finished with 21 points, four assists and one turnover in 33 minutes.
“He has great courage,” Spoelstra said of Winslow. “It’s a terrific quality to have as a young player. The bigger the moments, usually the more he rises to the occasion. He did a great job of facilitating, getting us organized and then being aggressive. Reading the game of when to be aggressive and obviously doing that against of the top defenders on the planet [Kawhi Leonard].”
The 22-year-old is averaging 14.9 points on 49.6 percent shooting from the field and 45.1 percent shooting from three-point range, to go with five rebounds and 4.1 assists in his past 10 games. The Heat has outscored teams by 59 points with Winslow playing during that stretch.
Maybe the most eye-opening aspect of Winslow’s play this season has been his improved three-point shooting. He’s making a career-best 39 percent from deep on a career-high 3.6 three-point shot attempts. For a player who entered this season as a career 31.4 percent three-point shooter, that’s a big jump.
3. The Heat’s defense wasn’t at its best Wednesday. After holding its previous five opponents under 100, Miami allowed the Raptors to score 106 on 46.8 percent shooting.
The Heat posted a defensive rating of 112.8 against Toronto, which is Miami’s worst defensive rating since allowing 114.1 points per 100 possessions in a loss to Orlando on Dec. 4. The Heat is now 0-11 this season when finishing with a defensive rating of 110 or more.
4. Whiteside was on his way to one of the best performances of his season, but then he hurt his left hip in the third quarter and it impacted him late in the game. Despite that, the Heat’s starting center finished with a strong stat line that included 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in 31 minutes. That’s the most he’s played since logging 34 minutes in a Dec. 2 win over the Jazz.
But most of Whiteside’s production Wednesday came during a 12-point, 10-rebound and three-block first half.
“He was big,” Spoelstra said. “[The hip injury] got him a little bit out of rhythm in the fourth quarter. It was on that lob dunk attempt, he got hit. A bit of a hip pointer.”
After Whiteside injured his hip while being fouled on a dunk attempt with 9:05 remaining in the third quarter, he scored four points and grabbed one rebound the rest of the way. The Heat outscored the Raptors by 22 points with Whiteside playing, but were outscored by 24 points when he wasn’t.
“My hip was bothering me a lot, but I’m not going to make an excuse. I just played through it,” Whiteside said. “I missed some shots that I can make a lot. I’ve got to get better and I’m going to keep practicing.”
5. It was another positive night for the Heat’s starters. While Miami’s multitude of starting lineups — 14 different starting lineups, to be exact — have struggled at times this season, it seems to have found something with the starting five of Winslow, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, James Johnson and Whiteside.
The Heat started that group for the fourth time this season and for the fourth time in six games on Wednesday. Miami is now 3-1 in those games.
This five-man combination outscored Toronto by 12, and is now a plus-27 in 44 minutes together this season.
Unless there’s another injury, this will be the Heat’s starting lineup moving forward until Dragic and/or Waiters return. Dragic is not expected back until after the February All-Star break, but Waiters’ comeback from left ankle surgery seems closer with Waiters returning to practice last week for the first time in a year.