Heat, Dragic step up the pace in 126-115 victory over Suns

Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

PHOENIX -- This was not the approach of design for coach Erik Spoelstra, an offensive shootout against an opponent that wanted nothing more.

But the Miami Heat simply couldn't help themselves at the outset, rumbling to 69 points in the first half on the way to Wednesday night's 126-115 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena, their highest-scoring game of the season.

From there, after the Heat's highest-scoring half of the season, the Heat got a better handle on the pace, and now a better handle on this six-game trip, at 2-2 with games remaining against the Utah Jazz on Friday night and Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

With seven of the eight players in Spoelstra's tightened rotation scoring in double figures, matching the high such total this season, the Heat had enough to hold on after pushing to a 16-point lead.

Former Suns guard Goran Dragic led the Heat with a season-high 29 points, with center Hassan Whiteside adding 23 points and 10 rebounds. Dion Waiters closed 16 points, including a pair of key late jumpers, one a 3-pointer.

Guard Devin Booker led the Suns with 30 points.

Just was the case when the Heat blew a 25-point lead before winning Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers, sustained continuity was an issue, with the Suns clawing within eight midway through the final period.

Whiteside then twice scored on alley-oop dunks to push back to double-digit lead, before four consecutive points from Booker drew Phoenix within 112-106, with 2:53 left.

That's when Waiters stepped up with a jumper for a 114-106 Heat lead and Booker missed on the other end. Waiters then added a 3-pointer with 1:33 left for a 117-106 Heat lead.

Spoelstra again was forced to adjust his rotation, this time with Tyler Johnson unable to play due to an illness.

So even with Waiters back after his two-game paternity leave, Spoelstra unveiled his sixth starting lineup of the season, opening with Justise Winslow at power forward, after Winslow had previously started on the wing amid Waiters' absence.

That had Okaro White again back out of the lineup and out of the rotation.

With Waiters back, he opened in the backcourt alongside Dragic, with Josh Richardson and Winslow at forward, the lineup rounded out by Whiteside at center.

Further adjustment was required when Richardson was called for his second foul midway through the opening period, leaving Wayne Ellington as the unexpected first reserve off the bench.

Richardson, who played in foul trouble, as did Waiters, was the lone Heat rotation player not to score in double figures, fouling out with four points and six rebounds.

The Heat opened the fourth quarter with an Ellington 3-pointer, a Kelly Olynyk dunk and a driving layup by James Johnson to move to a 101-86 lead.

The Suns drew within six in the third period before the Heat went into the fourth up 94-86, with Dragic already up to 27 points by that stage, surpassing his previous season high of 23.

Despite being outscored 33-27 in the second period, the Heat went into halftime up 69-54, thanks, in part, to a late 3-pointer from Waiters. The Heat shot 9 of 17 on 3-pointers in the first half, fueled over the 24 minutes by Dragic's 17 points.

The Heat led 36-27 at the end of the opening period, with Whiteside called for two fouls in the first quarter.

The game was the first game of a two-game season series that concludes March 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

When the Heat lost last season's visit it snapped a 12-game winning streak over the Suns, with the team's splitting last season's two games.

The Heat were coming off Monday's 97-80 loss to Golden State, when Whiteside was benched for all but the first 73 seconds of the second half.

The game was the second on a six-game homestand for the Suns, who entered on a three-game losing streak.

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