Until Sunday, it was a relatively simple exercise to pick the Miami Heat’s best road win of the season.
There was the Oct. 26 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, in the Heat’s road opener — and that was it.
“The coach let us know,” striker Caleb Martin said of Erik Spoelstra’s pre-match message. “He put that on the board, 1-7, which I obviously didn’t even realize. But just to put it in perspective for us, just to see it on the board, it’s pretty disgusting.
Sunday night, what had been a road to ruin turned into a 106-98 win over the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena, ending the Heat’s seven-game road losing streak.
It was a victory that came in the continued absence of Jimmy Butler, as well as the injury absences of Duncan Robinson, Gabe Vincent and Nikola Jovic.
Against the opponent they ousted 4-1 in the first round of last season’s playoffs, the Heat again looked road-weary early on, falling behind by 11 early, before rallying in third quarter and store it in the fourth.
Center Bam Adebayo, who again led the way to make it a three-game winning streak, followed Friday night’s 38 points against the Washington Wizards with 32 more points.
“We played through him in the post when we needed control of the game,” Spoelstra said.
There was also Tyler Herro’s first career triple-double, which closed with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Those numbers came despite shooting 3 of 13 from the field and 0 of 8 from 3-point range.
“A very important lesson that you can find different ways to impact a win,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat also got 20 points from Caleb Martin, 16 points from Max Strus and nine points and nine assists from Kyle Lowry.
Five degrees of heat from Sunday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Hawks led 31-23 at the end of the first quarter and 60-51 at halftime, before the Heat took an 85-81 lead in the fourth quarter.
Then, on a Martin 3-pointer with 8:05 remaining, the Heat extended their lead to 96-86, with a Dru Smith 3-pointer 29 seconds later, giving the Heat the biggest lead of the game at this point. at 99-86.
The Heat’s lead eventually grew to 14, but the Hawks then cut it to 104-96 on a field goal by Trae Young and a technical foul by Herro.
But the Heat held on from there, breaking the road skid, behind solid second-unit play.
“This group played better,” Spoelstra said.
Of Smith & Co. allowing the Heat veteran to rest in the fourth quarter, Lowry said, “Thank you Dru and this unit. I like you.”
The Heat held Young to three in the fourth quarter and Dejounte Murray to five in the period.
“Keeping them under 100 with their firepower says a lot,” Lowry said.
2. Adebayo, again: Two nights after coming in three points shy of his career high against the Washington Wizards, Adebayo was 14 points at halftime.
He then came out and added 14 more in the third quarter.
Spoelstra said his center’s steady growth is tangible.
“I think he should always be considered for most improved player,” Spoelstra said, “how much his game changes year after year after year.”
Adebayo closed 13 of 20 from the field.
“I’m in a flux,” he said.
But Herro noted, “The shots he lands are not easy shots.”
And not only was Adebayo dominating in the middle, but it was relief center Dewanye Dedmon who provided much-needed relief during the Heat’s fourth-quarter run, allowing Adebayo to expire.
Dedmon finished with 13 points and six rebounds in 14:16.
3. Return, and return: Strus was back, and back in the starting lineup, after missing the previous two games with a shoulder problem.
He then came out with 11 points in the first quarter, converting all three of his 3-point attempts in the quarter.
At halftime, Strus was 4 of 7 from 3 points, the rest of the roster 1 of 9 (with that conversion from reserve center Dewayne Dedmon).
“He just does a lot of things that help your team,” Spoelstra said, Strus limping towards the post-game bus, apparently favoring an ankle.
4. Waiting for Butler: Spoelstra said Butler was progressing, though he remained behind in Miami, missing his sixth straight game with right knee pain.
“He’s capable of doing a really good job in Miami,” Spoelstra said. “He’s definitely better and we’ll see how the week goes.”
Butler is expected to join the Boston squad, where the Heat face the Celtics on Wednesday and Friday nights.
On Sunday, Jovic was added to the injury report, listed for the first time with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
“I think it’s just been activity,” Spoelstra said, with Jovic starting the previous six games before Sunday. “We will know how to handle it.”
5. Playoff spinoffs: Atlanta coach Nate McMillan didn’t mince words before the game. He said his team’s metamorphosis in the offseason was a direct result of being ousted by the Heat in five games in the first round of the playoffs last season.
A few weeks after that disappearance, the Hawks traded three first-round picks to the San Antonio Spurs for Murray.
Asked what his team’s loss in the playoffs showed him, McMillan said, “That we have to improve. You had to be more physical. We had to be able to run against a switching defense, as Miami put it on the ground. Basically, they’ve gone from one to five, and they’re comfortable with their guards keeping big and their big guards. And they won that game.
“So we had to try and find another player, which we did, to give us some extra firepower to attack that style of play.”
Spoelstra said: “I see their team as totally different with Murray.”