The Whiteside-Johnson connection elevates Miami Heat past Washington

WASHINGTON, DC -  NOVEMBER 17: James Johnson
WASHINGTON, DC -  NOVEMBER 17: James Johnson /

A strong performance from both James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside carried the Miami Heat past the Washington Wizards.

The Miami Heat traveled to the nation’s capital on Friday night, looking to regroup after falling to the Washington Wizards just two days ago in South Beach.

Entering the contest, the Heat had to contend with a continual effort to limit turnovers while containing the Wizards dynamic duo of Bradley Beal and John Wall.

Despite the Heat continuing with Justise Winslow starting at power forward, head coach Erik Spoelstra quickly changed his approach, swapping out Winslow for James Johnson within two minutes in the first quarter. The substitution proved useful, as Johnson got off to a hot start, scoring seven points and snagging four boards. More importantly, Johnson’s presence gave the Heat more size to handle the Wizards’ Marcus Morris, who was able to exploit a mismatch and shoot over the smaller Winslow.

In true Groundhog Day fashion, Miami got off to yet another red-hot start, including a 14-2 run in the second quarter to balloon the lead to 21. Shooting 6-for-21 from 3 in the first half wasn’t of much concern, as Miami limited the Wizards to 0-for-13 from beyond-the-arc.

Even more exciting than the second quarter, 21-point lead was Justise Winslow’s energy. The third year forward from Duke ignited the Heat, contributing 10 points (four off of a pair of monster dunks and two from a fastbreak Euro-step). Questions of Winslow’s offensive capabilities have echoed since being drafted, but his shift towards the role of a high-energy “everyman” fits well in Spoelstra’s lineups.

The generous 21-point lead (the largest was 25) gave Spoelstra some assurance to insert rookie Bam Adebayo, if only making a brief appearance. Although Miami is looking to make a return to the playoffs, sitting Adebayo (who hasn’t played since November 6 at the Golden State Warriors), has raised questions of confidence in the rookie’s development and potential contributions for this iteration of the Heat. Adebayo would return early in the fourth, resulting in contributions of one point and one rebound in four minutes of action.

Miami didn’t light up the third quarter offensively as they did the first half, instead trying to play the lead and maintain momentum. The Wizards did slash the lead to nine on the back of Beal’s 14-point third quarter, though the lid on the basket continued to haunt Wall, who went scoreless through the quarter.

In keeping with the 2017-18 Heat narrative, the fourth quarter efforts of Washington (namely Jodie Meeks and Jason Smith), brought the lead to as little as four at the quarter’s midpoint. During the Wizards run however, Johnson served as Miami’s rock, serving up a pair of assists on two 3-point plays to Whiteside. “Bloodsport” delivered 20-points himself, returning to form after a shaky start to the season.

A shootout ensued with under a minute remaining, as a triplet of 3’s from Wall, Dion Waiters, then Beal fell in sequence. Nursing a two-point lead after a missed Johnson free throw, a missed 15-foot jumper from Beal sealed the deal in favor of Miami, bumping their record to 7-8.

Next: What's currently hurting the struggling 6-8 Miami Heat?

The Heat will return to Miami to take on the Indiana Pacers Sunday, hoping to even their record at .500 once again.