Bench boosts Heat past Bulls
CHICAGO — Hassan Whiteside acknowledged that finding himself on the bench seated next to fellow starter Dion Waiters late in a close game didn’t exactly feel normal.
However, when the Miami Heat’s reserves ended up doing enough to close out a third consecutive victory on Sunday, where Whiteside finished the game really didn’t matter.
Goran Dragic scored 24 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, and Wayne Ellington finished with 19 of Miami’s 54 bench points in a 100-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Reserve James Johnson contributed 15 points, Whiteside had 11 points and nine rebounds, and Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Johnson provided 10 points apiece off the bench.
“We have a lot of weapons, and sometimes different players are going to finish the game,” Dragic said.
Added Whiteside: “We got the win ... that’s all that matters.”
Miami (10-9) handed the Bulls (3-15) their fifth consecutive loss. The Heat pulled away late after Chicago got to within 80-78 with 6:11 remaining.
Dragic followed with a 3-point field goal, a pair of free throws and a three-point play to increase the Heat’s lead back to 88-81.
After the Bulls crept to within five points on two free throws by Justin Holiday with 3:49 remaining, Ellington hit a 3-pointer to again extend Miami’s lead, which eventually grew to 12 points — thanks in large part to the role the Heat bench played in the victory.
“We’ve been trending in the right direction,” Johnson said. “We’re going to take our bumps and bruises along the way, but as long as we’re playing consistent and sticking to our habits, I think everything is going to fall into our (favor).”
Coming off an 0-4 West Coast road trip that ended with back-to-back blowout losses, the Bulls were led by Jerian Grant, who scored 24 points. Denzel Valentine amassed 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for Chicago, which also got 15 points from Holiday and 11 apiece from rookie Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis. Markkanen grabbed 10 rebounds.
Despite another loss, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg found positives in the way his team competed. After leading after the first quarter, Chicago allowed 38 second-quarter points before allowing 36 in the final 12 minutes when Miami was finally able to pull away.
“Obviously, we don’t like moral victories, but I thought our guys came out and competed the right way tonight,” Hoiberg said.
Still, Valentine admitted that after a while, the defeats get old.
“Nobody on our team wants to learn from losing,” Valentine said. “Everyone want to learn by winning. But at the same time, all you can do is go out and compete.”
Miami led 45-42 at halftime despite starting the game shooting 2-for-19 from the floor as the teams combined for 20 points in the opening quarter. The clubs combined to shoot 13.9 percent (6-for-43) in the first quarter, which ended with Chicago holding a 13-7 lead.
Despite the slow start, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra liked the way his team was able to finish for the third straight game. But in what has been an up-and-down start to the season, Spoelstra said if Miami is going to continue to win, consistency has to be the key.
“We have to develop better habits — it’s as simple as that and that doesn’t guarantee anything,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t want that to be translated as a negative, but we have to develop better behavior, better habits, better approach.”
NOTES: Heat C Hassan Whiteside played on Sunday after missing practice on Saturday. Whiteside is experiencing soreness in his left knee that is related to a bone bruise he sustained at the start of the season. Whiteside entered Sunday a game-time decision. The Heat played the second game of a four-game road trip that will conclude Wednesday in New York against the Knicks. ... Bulls F David Nwaba (ankle sprain) missed his 10th straight game but is feeling better, according to coach Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg said Nwaba could return to practice as early as Monday. ... Bulls G Zach LaVine (knee) continues to progress, and he played one-on-one Sunday after playing three-on-three during practice on Chicago’s four-game road trip. Hoiberg said the Bulls have a process in place as LaVine prepares to return to the lineup, but they won’t rush him and risk making matters worse in the long run.