All it took was a six-hour flight, the change of three time zones and the disappointment of a 1-3 start to get the Miami Heat looking something far closer to the team that finished with the best record last season in the Eastern Conference finals.
And so make it a 2-3 start, with the Heat pushing past the previously undefeated Portland Trail Blazers 119-98 Wednesday night at Moda Center.
The 3-pointers were flowing and falling, Kyle Lowry was playing like the QB1 that coach Erik Spoelstra praised so often last season, the bench provided a boost, and the defense was pesky and productive even before Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was lost for the night in the third quarter with a calf strain.
It was, in the end, the type of late-night theater the Heat had lacked while on Miami time during their season-opening four-game homestand.
Work assuredly remains, but these were efforts to be embraced, from the 17 points apiece from Jimmy Butler and Lowry, with neither needed in the fourth quarter, to the 18 points of Bam Adebayo, 16 points apiece of Caleb Martin and Max Strus and 14 from Tyler Herro.
Lillard scored 22 for the Blazers in his 26 minutes, with Portland losing for the first time in its six outings.
Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat led 61-56 at halftime and then pushed to the game’s first double-digit lead in the third quarter on the way to a 14-point advantage, before going into the fourth up 94-81.
From there, A Duncan Robinson 3-pointer pushed the Heat lead to 16 just 33 seconds into the final period, with the Heat lead growing to 26 before starters were pulled.
2. Jovic debut: Nikola Jovic, drafted No. 27 by the Heat out of Serbia in June, made his NBA debut when Adebayo was forced to the bench with his third foul with 7:30 left in the second period.
Rather than return to backup center Dewayne Dedmon, who had two fouls in his opening four-minute stint and has struggled at the start of the season, Spoelstra turned to his 6-foot-11 rookie.
Jovic was called for a foul 31 seconds after entering, given the beefy assignment of defending Jusuf Nurkic, who, at a listed 290, had 65 pounds on Jovic.
Jovic’s first NBA basket came on a tip-in of his own miss, but he also was called for a third foul 3:39 after entering and then a fourth 5:22 into that stint, forcing him to the bench in favor of Dedmon.
Jovic then got the call in the third period ahead of Dedmon, when Adebayo went to the bench.
3. Lowry’s threes: Entering 7 of 25 on 3-pointers through the first four games, Lowry was up to 4 of 5 by the early stages of the third quarter, closing 5 of 7 from beyond the arc.
Lowry’s hot start helped offset early struggles from Tyler Herro, who opened 1 of 5 on 3-pointers.
Lowry’s first 3-pointer moved him past former Heat guard Joe Johnson for 14th on the NBA all-time list.
Lowry also reached 300 career blocks with one in the third quarter.
4. Bench boost: With Martin back from his one-game NBA suspension for Saturday’s kerfuffle with the Raptors and back in the starting lineup, the Heat received multiple bench boosts.
Strus, who had started Monday in place of Martin, had 13 points, three 3-pointers and six rebounds by halftime. There also again was solid support in reserve from guard Gabe Vincent, including pesky defense against Lillard.
5. Gets . . . a lot tougher: Up next on the second night of this back-to-back are the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday night at the Chase Center, a Warriors team that had Wednesday off, a Golden State team that is coming off a loss in Phoenix. All of that with Klay Thompson coming off an ejection in that loss to the Suns.