The Miami Heat’s recent stretch of road games is finally over.
After playing 17 of their last 24 games away from home, the Heat will play four consecutive games at AmericanAirlines Arena. The homestand opens Friday night when Miami faces the Dallas Mavericks.
Uncertainty continues if the Heat will expand its roster against Dallas. Injuries sidelined starting point guard Goran Dragic and key reserves James Johnson and Justise Winslow for Miami’s just completed two-game road set at Atlanta and Boston. Starting center Hassan Whiteside remains sidelined with a bone bruise in his left knee. Whiteside, who has missed 16 of Miami’s 31 games, is not expected to return during the homestand.
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With a depleted lineup, the Heat faced daunting odds against the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics on Wednesday. However, led by former Celtic Kelly Olynyk’s career-high 32 points, the Heat stunned Boston, 90-89.
The victory over the Celtics gave Miami a 10-7 record in its road stretch. Miami also won the season series against the Celtics, 2-1.
“Each painful step that we take in this 82-game ride, we’re learning tough lessons,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Wednesday’s game. “We’re feeling pain. We’re improving on things.”
The Heat (16-15) improved in the second half against Boston and turned the game’s tide with a defensive adjustment. In an effort to protect the durability of his depleted lineup and slow down the Celtics, Spoelstra switched to a zone defense in the third quarter.
The unusual strategy worked as Miami outscored Boston 26-15 in the period and set the tone for the Heat’s best road victory of the season.
“We practiced it for about 36 seconds in shoot-around,” Olynyk said. “It threw them off their rhythm. That was kind of what the purpose of it was. I don’t think they were prepared for a zone at all. I don’t think many teams in the NBA are at all.”
If Dragic, Johnson and Winslow remain sidelined for the Mavericks game, Spoelstra again might deploy the zone.
“Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures in this league,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t know if you’ll see a steady diet of that from us, but we needed it.”
While the Heat will have an extended home stretch, the Mavericks (9-23) begin a string of five of six road games.
Before their road jaunt, the Mavericks welcomed the return of rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. for their 110-93 home win over Detroit Wednesday. Smith scored 15 points and had five assists and five rebounds as the Mavericks snapped a three-game losing streak in the victory against the Pistons.
Smith, the ninth overall draft pick after a freshman season at North Carolina State, missed six games because of a left hip strain.
During Smith’s absence, the Mavericks lost five of six. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle eased Smith’s return, limiting him to a 21-minute outing against Detroit.
“When you get 25 games in and you’ve got a starting rookie point guard, it’s probably a good time for a break, anyway,” Carlisle told the Dallas Morning News. “Just from the standpoint of so much coming at you.”
Despite the Mavericks’ recent struggles, the defensive performance against the Pistons could serve as a motivator in their upcoming road stretch, which also includes stops at Atlanta, Indiana, New Orleans and Oklahoma City detoured by a home game against Toronto next Tuesday.
“We’ve won most of our games when we keep our opponents under 100 points,” Smith said after the win over Detroit. “That’s something we want to duplicate night in and night out. That was a focal point coming into this game and we’re going to look forward to keep doing it for the rest of the year.”