Much of the criticism surrounding the Miami Heat for their lackluster start has dissolved with the team reeling off five straight wins. Although they’ve seemingly found their rhythm, those victories were either against overmatched opponents or at home.
The team expects a much bigger challenge when it visits the Utah Jazz, who already won the first meeting of the season in Miami.
The Heat look to extend their season-high winning streak to six games and earn their first road victory over a team with a winning record Wednesday night against the Northwest Division-leading Jazz.
Since opening the season 9-8 and holding a players-only meeting after a 106-95 loss at Dallas on Nov. 27, Miami (14-8) has quieted some of its critics by winning its last five games by an average of 17.2 points.
“I think the early season trials and tribulations that we’ve been through just allowed us to calm down and worry about the next play,” LeBron James(notes) said following Monday’s 88-78 win in Milwaukee.
One of Miami’s early disappointing setbacks came against the Jazz on Nov. 9.
Utah (16-6) stormed back from a 19-point, third-quarter deficit to win 116-114 in overtime. Paul Millsap(notes) scored a career-high 46 points, with 11 coming in the final 28 seconds of regulation as the Jazz rallied from eight down.
James had 20 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds in that loss, and could be poised for another big game. The six-time All-Star has a career 33.0 scoring average in seven career games at Utah.
Dwyane Wade(notes) had a season-best 39 points in the first meeting of the season with the Jazz, and again led the way for Miami on Monday, finishing with 25 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. The Heat had a 48-35 rebounding advantage and held Milwaukee to 34.6 percent shooting.
“We understand that it takes defense to win,” Wade said.
Miami is allowing an average of 82.2 points on 37.7 percent shooting in its last five games, but three of the opponents its faced during the winning streak - Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit - have some of the NBA’s worst offenses.
In addition to beating those three teams with losing records, the Heat’s winning streak started with a victory over Washington, another team under .500. The only victory Miami has over a team with a winning record since Nov. 18 was an 89-77 home win over Atlanta on Saturday.
The Heat, 4-5 on the road, have yet to beat an opponent with a winning record away from Miami, falling at Boston, New Orleans, Orlando and Dallas.
Notching a victory in Utah won’t be easy, as the Heat have lost all three road games against Western Conference teams this season, while the Jazz have won six of their last seven in Salt Lake City, averaging 102.3 points in those victories.
Utah’s lone defeat in this stretch was Friday’s sluggish 93-81 loss to the Mavericks, snapping an overall seven-game winning streak. The Jazz bounced back nicely, beating Memphis 94-85 on Monday, their 14th win in 17 games.
“The Dallas game was a slip-up but we’re back on track now and hopefully we can keep going,” Williams said.
Williams had 27 points and eight assists against the Grizzlies, after finishing with 12 points on 4 of 13 shooting against Dallas.
The Jazz are 12-3 when Williams reaches the 20-point mark and 4-3 when he doesn’t. He had 21 points and 14 assists in Miami last month.