Points And Pictures: Breaking Down Miami’s 9-Game Winning Streak

Insight

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A little less than three weeks ago, the Miami HEAT were on the fast track to a top-three pick in the NBA lottery. They were 11-30, injury-riddled, and visibly fluttering as the season seemed to be quickly slipping away. Now, the HEAT are riding a nine-game winning streak and are within striking distance of the eighth seed in the East.

Incredible the difference three weeks makes. What’s more incredible is that there hasn’t been a tangible difference in how the team has played, other than the execution is much better.

It’s been noted throughout the season that the HEAT had been doing everything right in terms of strategy. On a per-game basis, they currently rank seventh in shots attempted in the paint and second in corner threes attempted. What hurt the team was guys like Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow struggling around the rim, and the team as a whole not shooting well from three.

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For most of the season, guys like Luke Babbitt, Josh Richardson, Waiters, and Rodney McGruder really struggled to take advantage of open looks behind the arc. The repetition and unwavering commitment to the process appears to have paid huge dividends during the win streak:

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The uptick in execution has had the secondary benefit of improving team morale and, as a result, the team’s hustle stats — screen assists, deflections, loose balls recovered, charges taken, and steals — are up across the board.

I don’t think there’s been a bigger beneficiary during this win streak than the allure of the Heat’s culture. From Waiters to James Johnson to Willie Reed to even Babbitt, head coach Erik Spoelstra has shown yet again that he gets the most out of his players and should help the organization continue to acquire cheap, maligned talent in the years to come.


THE SLASH BROTHERS

This streak isn’t possible without Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters setting the East on fire. Over the last nine games, the two have combined to average 44.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 11 assists, and 2.1 steals while shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.

(We’re just gonna skip over the 66.7 percent clip from the free-throw line.)

They’ve done most of their damage in the pick-and-roll, slithering their way into the lane and making plays for themselves and others:

The real contrast between the two has been from behind the arc. Dragic has been the beneficiary of spot-up looks (47.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes), while Waiters has knocked his fair share of YOLO shots off the dribble (44.4 percent on pull-up threes), like this one:

 


THREE-POINT SHOOTING

The HEAT’s nine-game winning streak began on January 17th. Prior to that date, the HEAT were tied for third worst in the league in three-point shooting (33.8 percent) while taking 25.6 attempts per game. Since then, the HEAT have been the BEST three-point shooting team in the league (41.7 percent) while taking 26.9 attempts per game. They’re taking just as many threes as before, but now it seems they are shooting into an empty pool instead of an empty solo cup.

The HEAT have shot 37 percent or better from three in each of the last eight games. That is the second longest streak in HEAT history, as the 04-05 HEAT had a streak of 10 games shooting 37 percent or better from three. Only the Raptors (12) and Spurs (10) have had longer streaks this season.

Virtually every HEAT shooter not named Tyler Johnson (you can have this one, Gianni *) has seen a dramatic bump in their efficiency during the streak:

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Five players are shooting north of 40 percent from deep, while Make It Wayne Ellington has been dropping triples at a high clip.

Most of the recent success stems from an increase in middle penetration, in the half-court and transition. Dragic and Waiters have done a wonderful job of getting into the lane, drawing defenders, and kicking out to open shooters:

It’s only a matter of time until some regression sets in — Dion won’t be hitting off-the-dribble threes forever — but it’s nice to see the open shots Miami has been generating all year are finally falling at a high clip.

* “AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” – Gianni


IT’S SHOWTIME

One of the most encouraging aspects of this run has been the constant contributions of the HEAT’s backup center, Willie Reed. Reed has been an integral part of this HEAT run with his sound play on both ends of the court. He leads the team in Net Rating during the win streak, as the HEAT are outscoring opponents by 18 points per 100 possessions with him on the court.

Reed’s value really stood out during the Chicago game. Reed, replacing an injured Hassan Whiteside, made quite the statement that game, scoring 20 points on 11 shots while playing a team-leading 37 minutes in a double-digit HEAT win:

Reed has shown real growth as the season has progressed. During the win streak, opponents have shot 45 percent when Reed was the closest defender, three percentage points below their average — the same mark as Whiteside during this stretch.

On the offensive end, Reed has thrived as a rim-roller and glass cleaner, shooting a blistering 85.7 percent in the restricted area. He screens well, and understands where to move to create a driving lane for the ball-handler and a passing window for himself:

Reed has a player option for next season, but it’s pretty much a given he’ll decline it to cash in. He’s certainly earned himself a raise with his recent play.


9-OKARO

The best story of the win streak has been the fact that the team still has not lost with Okaro White on the roster. Although he’s only played significant minutes in seven of the nine games, he’s still played in 28 percent of the team’s minutes during the win streak, showing that Spo already trusts him out there.

In his very limited action, he’s shown an ability to finish efficiently from all over the court:

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Perhaps what’s been most impressive about White has been the athleticism, length, and prowess he’s shown on the defensive end:

Opponents have shot 42 percent with White as the closest defender, three percentage points below their average. White is also contesting the third most shots per 36 minutes (13.2) during the win streak. He’s already taken a charge as well, confirming that he’s a .

What’s been the nicest surprise is that, in an obviously small sample, he’s been an efficient three-point shooter as well. In the preseason he only shot about thirty percent from three, which showed he was capable but not necessarily a knockdown shooter. Early in his NBA career, he’s 5/11 from behind the arc, providing optimism that he can be a real force as a stretch four.

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Watching him play, you can’t help but think that Miami may have found a smaller, Chris Bosh-lite to help fill the long, athletic shooter/defender void left by the future Hall of Famer. I would expect that if the HEAT cannot trade Derrick Williams, he will be cut in order to make space in order to keep Okaro on the roster.


Co-written by Nekias Duncan (@NekiasNBA) and Christian Hernandez (@cch1125)

 

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