Heat notebook: Defense makes improvements on West Coast road trip

Miami has allowed 97.2 points per game which is fourth-best in the NBA.

Kelley L Cox/Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat wrapped up their West Coast trip on a positive note after 10 days on the road with a convincing 95-83 win over the Sacramento Kings to finish 3-2. 

Though the team suffered the loss of Dwyane Wade due to a strained left hamstring during the trip, there was plenty to feel good about. 

They were thoroughly outplayed by the superior Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors, but their overall level of play on both ends of the floor has seen much improvement while the promising duo of Hassan Whiteside and Shabazz Napier delivered when called upon.

Here are five takeaways from the week:

Heat dominate with Bosh, Deng leading the way

It’s no coincidence that when Chris Bosh and Luol Deng are active and aggressive on the offensive side, the Heat are unbeatable. With the victory in Sacramento, the Heat improve to 17-0 all-time when Bosh scores 30 or more points. Similarly, when Deng scores at least 20 points the Heat are a perfect 6-0 this season.

Bosh was consistent all night long while Deng led the way in the third quarter with 12 points — his highest-scoring quarter of the season — to make up for the loss of Wade, who remains day-to-day after he strained his left hamstring against the Los Angeles Lakers. The dynamic frontcourt duo combined for an efficient 22-30 shooting, including 5-7 from 3-point range.

Protecting the rim

With six blocks against the Kings, the Heat are averaging 7.0 blocks in their last six games. That includes a season-high 11 against the Clippers on Sunday. Whiteside now has two or more blocked shots in nine consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NBA.

The Heat could use all the help they can get in that category, with their 4.0 average tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for 26th in the NBA.

Much improved defense

Perhaps the most encouraging sign from the trip was the more focused effort on the defensive side, which was arguably the primary cause for the Heat’s disappointing start to the season.

Miami is now fourth-best in the league in points allowed at 97.2. Their Nov. 2 victory against the Toronto Raptors — in their third game of the season — remains the only time in which the opponent scored more than 100 points in a Heat victory. 

Of course, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Miami still ranks near the bottom of the league in opponent field goal shooting and 3-point shooting. But their second-half struggles, particularly in the third quarter, are becoming a thing of the past — though it cost them the chance of securing an impressive victory against the Trail Blazers in the first game of the road trip.

The Heat still remain last in the league in rebounding, but they won the battle of the boards against the Kings and improve to 10-3 on the season when they out-rebound the opponent.

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Whiteside moves into starting role

Head coach Erik Spoelstra spoke of slowly bringing along Whiteside when he signed with the team in late November. But after becoming the first player in NBA history to come off the bench in five consecutive games and average at least 10 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks (according to Elias), Spoelstra made the logical choice to begin starting him. 

After averaging 14.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.60 blocks in those five games, he has struggled  with foul trouble as a starter to stay on the floor when playing extended minutes. Nevertheless, his presence when he is playing has been a huge boost for Miami as they seek to have some normalcy in their starting lineup and in the rotation. 

Additionally, the more traditional starting five has also helped Bosh thrive at his natural power forward position. With Chris Andersen back to his familiar role off the bench, the Heat’s big man rotation has been a big reason why their defense has improved dramatically during the road trip.

Wade recuperating

Wade, who turns 33 on Saturday, has now missed 10 games this season — mostly as a result of his left hamstring — but will have plenty of rest after sitting out against the Clippers and the Kings. If he can return in time for Tuesday’s home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he will have had a full week off since he was injured against the Lakers. He will also reach the milestone of 750 career games. 

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com .