Shorthanded Miami Heat push to statement win over Cavaliers

CLEVELAND — Already two weeks into playing without half of their starting backcourt, the Miami Heat also played Wednesday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse without their entire starting power rotation.

No Tyler Herro, no Bam Adebayo, no Kevin Love.

No matter.

In an inspired effort that ended with only nine players available, the Heat pushed past the Cleveland Cavaliers 129-96 for their ninth victory in their last 10 games.

Unlike previous games when early leads disappeared, this was a thorough thrashing.

The 129 points were the most ever scored by the Heat against the Cavaliers, with the 33 points the largest margin of victory over the Cavaliers in the Heat’s 36 seasons.

“It was keeping up our intensity, keeping up the intensity for the entire game, not taking our foot off the gas, pushing those leads to greater and greater each time,” said rookie swingman Jaime Jaquez.

With two leading men out, point guard Kyle Lowry loaded up on 3-pointers early and kept going from there, closing with a season-nigh 28 points, including seven 3-pointers, one off his career high, even while afforded the luxury of sitting out the fourth quarter of the rout.

And it wasn’t as if the Heat needed theatrics from Jimmy Butler, who also got to sit the entire final period, closing with 10 points and nine assists.

Otherwise, it was largely an ensemble performance, with the Heat getting 22 points from Jaquez, 14 from Caleb Martin and 14 from Josh Richardson.

In addition, the tag team at center of Thomas Bryant and Orlando Robinson capably compensated for Adebayo’s absence with a sore hip, with Robinson closing with 14 points and eight rebounds, Bryant with 10 points and seven rebounds.

In all, the Heat tied a franchise record with eight players scoring in double figures.

The Heat closed 20 of 35 on 3-pointers.

“It helps when you make shots,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, “but I think the intentions were in more cases than not the right thought.”

The Heat have now played without a deficit in either of their past two games, with this their first 30-point win since May 2022.

Love missed the game due to a personal reason, with Herro now into his second week sidelined by a Grade 2 ankle sprain.

The Heat’s five-game trip continues Friday against the New York Knicks in an NBA In-Season Tournament game, before concluding Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets.

Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday night’s game:

1. Game flow: After opening with a 12-2 lead Monday in Chicago, the Heat this time took a 16-2 lead at the outset and 37-26 lead into the second period. The Heat then pushed their lead to 19 in the second period, before going into halftime up 69-55.

The Heat lead reached 24 in the third period, with the Heat going into the fourth up 101-79.

While the Cavaliers also were shorthanded, playing without Donovan Mitchell and Isaac Okoro among others, Cleveland had the look of a team that won in overtime the previous night on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Heat had Tuesday off.

“We’re pushing the pace and keeping the defense off balance,” Lowry said. “I think that’s what we’ve done the last 10, 11 games. Just keeping a high pace is good for us.”

2. Bam-less: For the second time this season, a sore right hip kept Adebayo out against an opposing big frontcourt, having also missed the Oct. 30 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

That had Bryant, who had been held out of the previous three games, starting at center.

“He was already in the rotation earlier in the season and he did some good things,” Spoelstra said of the center signed to a minimum deal in free agency. “Part of it has just been the adjustment of learning our system on both ends of the court. But I’ve been encouraged by a lot of things. His size, his motor, the efforts are definitely there.”

It also meant minutes for Orlando Robinson, who, except for two minutes of mop-up duty in Monday night’s rout of the Chicago Bulls had not played since Oct. 30. Robinson’s only tangible previous minutes were his 26 in Milwaukee when Adebayo previously was sidelined.

With Bryant opening alongside Butler, Lowry, Duncan Robinson and Haywood Highsmith, it gave the Heat their ninth starting lineup in 15 games this season.

“I said this felt like one of the deeper teams we’ve had,” Spoelstra said. “In particular, what I meant was the frontcourt. We have more depth at those frontcourt positions than we’ve had probably in some of the previous years and we just really commend Thomas and Orlando for staying ready. It’s not easy.”

3. Lowry launches: Lowry converted his first four 3-point attempts, giving him 12 points with 7:11 still remaining in the opening period, already his highest-scoring game since Nov. 11, when he had 17 against the Atlanta Hawks. Lowry then moved to 5 of 5 from beyond the arc later in the first for 15 first-quarter points, before checking out with 2:02 left in the period.

Entering Wednesday night, Lowry had scored 0, 3, 8 and 8 points in his previous four appearances. His previous high for 3-pointers in a game this season was four, twice.

“Kyle was terrific with his pace,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not just the three-point shooting. His pace was fantastic, never let the defense get set, was getting us into early actions and the Kyle chaos and so many different possessions that we really needed. We need him to be aggressive and assertive as often as he can. But he was terrific tonight.”

Lowry’s 3-pointers were needed with Duncan Robinson called for his second foul and forced to the bench with six minutes remaining in the first quarter.

With his 19th point midway late in the second period, Lowry surpassed his previous season high of 17 points, recorded twice.

The 28 points tied the most Lowry has scored with the Heat.

4. Max effort: The game began with former Heat forward Max Strus playfully flipping the bird at Butler during the pregame handshakes at midcourt, the middle-finger salute dating to their Heat days.

Strus then struggled at the outset, opening 1 of 5 from the field against the team he left in the offseason in free agency.

Strus closed with six points on 2-of-6 shooting, three assists and three rebounds, catching up with several members of the Heat staff pregame.

5. Another injury: The Heat lost guard Dru Smith for the night with a knee injury 7:45 left in the second period, 81 seconds after he entered for the first time.

The court in Cleveland is elevated for better fan sightlines, with a distinct and severe ledge in front of each bench. Smith was injured when he  misstepped on that ledge while attempting to close out on a Strus corner 3-point attempt.

“We’ll figure out when we get a scan,” Spoelstra said. “It is a dangerous floor. I don’t know the history of injuries here. But we’ve had a couple scares in previous years when guys are closing out in that corner. Thankfully, nobody has been injured before. But it’s an accident waiting to happen.”

The loss of Smith left the Heat with nine available players, with Nikola Jovic, Cole Swider and Jamal Cain on G League assignment and R.J. Hampton dealing with a knee injury.

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