Dragic scores 29, leads Heat past Suns
PHOENIX — Goran Dragic loves having big nights against his former team. Dion Waiters loves taking big shots in the big moments.
Both got what they wanted Wednesday night, and the result was a Miami Heat victory.
Dragic had 29 points and nine rebounds and Waiters scored five of his 16 points on two big jumpers in the final 2:02 to give the Heat a 126-115 win over the Phoenix Suns.
“Those rims are friendly,” said Dragic, who had two tours of duty with the Suns before being traded to the Heat in 2015. “I’ve played a lot of games here and you feel comfortable. It definitely helps. You want to play well anywhere you used to be; especially Phoenix because I loved the city.”
Erik Spoelstra, who is now 17-2 against the Suns as Miami coach, knew Dragic was ready to play.
“He had a little extra punch to him,” Spoelstra said. “These games in places that have been meaningful to you, you want to play well. It was great to get that win for him.”
Center Hassan Whitehead, who missed eight of nine shots and was benched early in the second half of a 97-80 loss to the Golden State Warriors Monday, responded with 23 points and 10 rebounds against an undersized Phoenix front line missing veteran Tyson Chandler (back spasms). Phoenix had a season-low six offensive rebounds.
Seven of the eight players who took part scored in double figures for Miami, who has won nine of its last 10 at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Wayne Ellington and James Johnson had 15 points each and Justise Winslow had 14 as Miami set season highs for points and shooting (53.1 percent).
Devin Booker had nine of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter for the Suns, and he cut a 16-point deficit to six at 112-106 on a 17-foot jumper with 2:53 left.
But Waiters followed a jumper with a 3-pointer with 1:33 left to make it a 117-106 Heat lead and lock down the game.
“I live for the tight moments. I never shy away from it and I never will,” Waiters said. “When you have a coach that trusts you are going to make the right play in those situations, it’s a lot easier.”
Mike James had 18 points and TJ Warren 16 for the Suns (4-8), who have lost four in a row.
For a fifth straight game, the Suns had a tough start. Miami led 10-2 in less than three minutes, and Dragic had 11 of his 17 first-half points in the quarter.
“It’s hard to play catch-up for sure,” Phoenix interim coach Jay Triano said. “The first quarters haven’t been good. We can’t put ourselves in a hole like that.”
The Heat, who outrebounded the Suns 28-14 in the first half, opened their lead to 47-31 on a Waiters layup with 9:08 left.
The Suns pulled within eight points when Booker hit a 3-pointer with 2:23 left. But the Heat scored the final seven points of the half, with a 3-pointer by Waiters with 10.8 seconds to go extending the lead back to 69-54 at intermission.
The teams were a combined 17 of 33 from 3-point range in the first half.
The Suns got back into the game with a 32-point third quarter and pulled within 92-86 on a Jared Dudley 3-pointer with 1:20 left. Dudley had 13 points off the bench and said it’s easy to tell the difference between a team that had won four out of five and one that lost four straight since.
“The reason we went on a winning streak was guys got at it on defense and held teams under their normal averages,” Dudley said. “There are a lot of positives offensively but a lot of defensive negatives we need to correct.”
The Heat regained control with a 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter, but the Suns rallied one more time before Waiters sealed it.
NOTES: Miami G Tyler Johnson sat out the game (concussion protocol). “He’s just not feeling well. It started yesterday,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ... Spoelstra continues to juggle his starting lineup, with F Justise Winslow replacing Okaro White. ... With Phoenix C Tyson Chandler out (back spasms), C Alex Len made his first start of the year. ... Suns C Greg Monroe, acquired in the Eric Bledsoe trade from the Milwaukee Bucks, is expected to be in Arizona on Thursday. He is currently out with a calf strain. ... Miami came into the game allowing 16.7 second-chance points per game, the most in the NBA, but they held the Suns to eight on Wednesday. ... Phoenix won the first 16 meetings with the Heat in the series. Since then, the Suns are 16-26.