After a brutal stretch, the Miami Heat might have gotten their swagger back by beating the two-time defending NBA champions.
The Heat look to carry the momentum from that critical victory into Saturday as they try to avenge November’s last-second loss to the visiting Memphis Grizzlies.
With reports of tears in the locker room following an 87-86 loss to Chicago on Sunday, many questioned Miami’s toughness and its chances of making a championship run.
Questions remained unanswered two days later when Portland came into South Beach and beat the Heat 105-96, handing them a season-worst fifth consecutive defeat.
Miami (44-21) entered Thursday night averaging 91.8 points during its skid - 9.5 below its season mark - but used an impressive defensive effort to avoid continuing its downward spiral and beat the Los Angeles Lakers 94-88.
“We didn’t want to run away from this,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team snapped the Lakers’ eight-game winning streak. “We didn’t want to hide from any of this. We want to get better. We want to make sure our game is right and ready when it really counts.”
With the score tied and 1:29 remaining, Dwyane Wade(notes) stole the ball from Kobe Bryant(notes) and set up LeBron James(notes) for a dunk to put Miami up for good. Wade also blocked the 13-time All-Star’s 3-point attempt with just over a minute left to help secure the win.
The Heat held Los Angeles to 40.0 percent from the field after allowing their previous four opponents to shoot a combined 50.3 percent.
“We haven’t been doing enough, of late,” Wade said. “We haven’t gotten the defensive stops, we haven’t gotten the loose balls.”
Wade scored eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter while James had 19 points, nine assists and eight rebounds as Miami clinched a postseason berth with 17 games remaining - the earliest it’s accomplished the feat in franchise history.
“I think for our mind and our psyche, it was very important,” said Bosh, who added nine rebounds.
Avoiding a letdown might be key to the Heat’s psyche as well. They suffered one when they faced the Grizzlies (36-30) on Nov. 20, having a three-game win streak snapped with a 97-95 loss on Rudy Gay’s(notes) buzzer-beating jumper.
Gay won’t be around for the rematch due to a shoulder injury, but Wade will be after missing that last meeting with an injured left wrist. He’s averaged 31.0 points in his last three home matchups against the Grizzlies.
Memphis suffered a heartbreaking loss of its own Wednesday night, 110-108 at home to New York on Carmelo Anthony’s(notes) last-second shot. The Grizzlies trailed by as many as 17 points and 14 in the fourth quarter.
“It was a tough game, but we showed resiliency and we had a chance,” coach Lionel Hollins said.
The Grizzlies have won nine of 13 overall and remain in eighth place in the Western Conference. Plus, they’ve been playing well on the road, winning seven of 11 - the four losses were by an average of 6.8 points.
The Grizzlies, 6-6 without Gay in the lineup this season, have taken five of seven from Miami.