HEAT 125 - Rockets 119 Recap

December 29 – Dwyane Wade was racing towards the hoop with the ball, gathering himself for a dunk, when Aaron Brooks chased him down and, in trying to swipe the ball away, smacked Wade right across the face.

He drew blood.

“You knew exactly what was about to happen,” LeBron James said.

Which, in this case, was just more of what was already happening: dominance. With the Miami HEAT struggling through their worst defensive performance in the past month, Wade had carried them in order to keep pace with the Houston Rockets. To the point where Brooks cut open his top lip, Wade had scored 30 points. By the end of the HEAT’s 125-119 victory, splitting defenders and adding a pair of and-ones as he went, he had 45 and his second consecutive 15-point fourth quarter.

“He was angry after that hit, he was bleeding,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you could see, after that point, an absolute laser like focus to the game. And he brought his poise as well.”

And at no other time in the HEAT’s franchise-best 15-1 month of December did they need it more. Though forcing their opponent to the usual sub-45 percent shooting, at 41.9, the HEAT allowed 119 points in a 100 possession game, along with 40 free-throw attempts and 29 assists on 39 field goals, two numbers that were particularly indicative of how uncharacteristic Miami’s defensive rotations were.

Not a bad time for their second-highest scoring game of the season.

“I hate these types of games,” Spoelstra said, referring to the shootout. “It’s a road win, so you can never discount how tough it is to win away from your own building.”

The win finished off an NBA record ten-straight road wins in a single months, and, with two days off until the first game of the new year, ample time to reflect on how far the HEAT have come. Come since a nine-point first quarter against the Boston Celtics, since losing three of four in the second week of the season, burned constantly by elite point guards, and since dropping four of five at the end of November.

Then, the HEAT may not have responded with a 10-2 run at the end of the third quarter after the home team briefly stole the lead. Joel Anthony, once the starter, may not have come off the bench in consecutive games to provide invaluable contributions, locking up Amar’e Stoudemire in one, four free throws and two key rebounds tonight.

Nor would James, Wade and Chris Bosh, once all too willing to share the ball, to their own faults, have combined for 86 points on 33-of-53 shooting, working off one another with spacing and understanding that only comes with time.

“It feels like a long time ago,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve come quite a bit of ways since the beginning of the year. We feel like we’re one of the most improved teams.

“We’re able to collectively stick together and improve as a group.”

They’ll have to, because January offers no respite. Though they have two home games in the first month, the HEAT face eight road games in the month, including the dreaded five-game trip that, if nothing else, will continue to test the team that faces a new one, together, every night.

They have had their failures and successes, the former feeling increasingly long ago, but what’s most important for the team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency is that not only do they keep on winning, but they keep winning in different ways.

They’ve beaten the speedy New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns. They’ve beaten top point guards in Chris Paul and Deron Williams. They’ve overcome the hostility of their first road game in Cleveland, and Christmas Day against the defending champs.

And most importantly, most translatable to playoff success, is they’ve found ways to win when forced out of their comfort zone.

“You do need to learn how to win different ways,” Spoelstra said. “I may not like these types of games, not playing to our identity; nonetheless you do have to find a way to win.”