By The Sports Xchange
ATLANTA — Dwight Howard has had better games during his 12-year career, but Wednesday’s performance may have been his most important game in his first season with the Atlanta Hawks.
Howard posted his 16th double-double with 23 points and 17 rebounds and helped the Hawks end their seven-game losing streak with a 103-95 win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday at Philips Arena.
“I could have done more,” Howard said. “It was good to get the monkey off our backs, but we’ve got to keep working.”
Howard shot 9 for 11 from the floor and was 5 for 6 at the line. Seven of his rebounds came on the offensive glass and Howard had four assists and two blocks.
Just as important was the veteran’s presence on defense, where he was instrumental in helping Atlanta limit Miami’s Hassan Whiteside to only eight points — 10 below his season average — on 4-for-12 shooting. Whiteside was whistled for three offensive fouls.
Atlanta (11-12) also got 21 points and nine rebounds from forward Paul Millsap and 17 points and seven assists from Dennis Schroder. Thabo Sefolosha added 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Miami (7-15) was led by Tyler Johnson with a career-high 27 points, including four 3-pointers. Goran Dragic added 21 points and Wayne Ellington scored 19, including four 3-pointers. Whiteside grabbed team-high 12 rebounds, the 22nd straight time he has led the team in that category.
Whiteside had scored 23-plus points in four of his last five games and was a focal point of the Atlanta defense. The Hawks often helped Howard by double-teaming Whiteside and preventing him from getting a good look.
“That’s what they do,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They protect the paint. They put multiple bodies at the rim. It requires you play with great discipline.”
The Hawks have won both games this season against the short-handed Heat, who have dropped three in a row. The victory stopped the bleeding, at least temporarily, for a team that entered the game having lost 10 of its last 11 games.
“It’s not fun,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “This group has a lot of pride and you need to win a game at some point. I still feel like we can get better.”
Howard said, “Every team has that bump in the road. I’d rather have that bump now than later in the season. Now we’ve got a chance to get some good wins.”
The Hawks used a 12-4 run in the first quarter and raced to an 11-point lead before the Heat cut the margin to 29-25 at the end of the period. Ellington kept the Heat in the game with 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Howard had 10 points and Millsap scored eight in the period
Atlanta led by as many as 15 in the second period, taking a 45-30 lead at 6:16 when Kyle Korver made a free throw after Josh McRoberts was whistled for a technical foul. The Hawks led 53-46 at halftime on 48.8 percent shooting.
The Hawks stretched their lead to 78-63 at the end of three quarters, but Miami clawed its way back into the game behind Johnson and Dragic, whose basket with 7:06 left got the Heat within 83-80. Atlanta regained its composure and upped the lead back to seven points when Sefolosha slammed in a rebound and Millsap scored on back-to-back possessions.
“We had an opportunity with a handful of minutes to go and the bang-bang-bang … they scored on each possession,” Spoelstra said. “Give them credit. They made plays.”
NOTES: Atlanta G Tim Hardaway Jr. left the game midway in the fourth quarter when he banged a knee during a scramble for a loose ball. … The Heat had only nine players available on Wednesday night’s game. They used only nine players on Tuesday, including four minutes from 13-year veteran F Udonis Haslem. Heat assistant coaches Juwan Howard and Chris Quinn have been stepping in to help provide a 10th man for practice when needed. … Atlanta G Kent Bazemore was inactive with a sore right knee and will miss the next two games. The Hawks assigned F Mike Scott to the D-League so the veteran could get more minutes as he tries to recover from a knee injury that kept him out until Nov. 30. … Atlanta plays again on Friday at Milwaukee. … Miami’s three-game road trip continues Friday in Cleveland.