The NBA schedule didn’t do the banged up Heat many favors in January.
But after pretty much hitting rock bottom three weeks in, the Heat is heading into February with something it hasn’t had since LeBron James was still here: a four-game winning streak.
Sunday night, behind five double-figure scorers, including a season-high 13 points and 12 rebounds from the 34-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire, Miami pounded the Hawks 105-87 at AmericanAirlines Arena, leapfrogging Atlanta in the standings to move back into the top spot in the Southeast Division.
“Everybody’s been talking about this month of January and how crazy it is,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “These are always opportunities for you to either grow or to feel sorry for yourself and make excuses. It didn’t go how we wanted to, but at the end of the day we finished over .500 [for January] at 9-8. So, we showed some toughness at the end of it.”
The Heat (27-21) has not only turned its season around after dropping seven of eight in a two-week span, but also it has figured out that Stoudemire and backup point guard Beno Udrih can still be valuable assets, too.
In a month that saw seven different players end up on the injury report at one point or another — including starting point guard Goran Dragic, who missed eight games with a strained calf, and center Hassan Whiteside, who missed his fifth consecutive game with a strained left hip — Udrih and Stoudemire haven’t just filled in. They’ve shined.
On Sunday, Stoudemire and Wade ran the pick and roll like they had been playing together for years. Miami opened the second half on an 11-2 run and extended its lead to as much as 22 points, mostly behind Wade and Stoudemire’s two-man game. Udrih, meanwhile, continued to provide a steady hand off the bench when Dragic was out. He finished with six points and two assists in 25 minutes.
“One thing we discovered when Goran went out was that Beno came in and really helped us out big time,” said Wade, who had another terrific night setting his teammates up for baskets with eight assists and 17 points. “And now Amar’e. Hassan’s been out, and now you can see what Amar’e brings to the team. When we’ve got our full group of guys — it’s going to be tough on Coach. But you get to see now what guys can do now together. It just makes the team better.
“These veterans know how to play. It’s giving us a different look than we had earlier in the season.”
Chris Bosh, who led Miami with 18 points and seven rebounds, said he’s beginning to see a breakthrough with the team. Miami’s offense, with its two point guards back, is getting down the court faster and not waiting until late in the shot clock to get going.
Sunday marked the third consecutive game the Heat scored at least 100 points. That’s only happened one other time this season.
“We were getting into too many situations earlier where it was getting in those low-clock situations and that’s a low percentage shot,” Bosh said. “I don’t care who you are. Just put pressure on the defense, see what their conditioning level is. But, most importantly, get it up the court. They might mess up in the first action. We might get an easy one. It’s been going good.”
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said during pregame that his team had plenty of offensive issues to work out. That didn’t happen. Atlanta shot 38.6 percent and trailed by as many as 22 points early in the third quarter before rallying to trim the Heat’s lead to as little as nine with 1:12 left in the third quarter.
Al Horford and Paul Millsap led Atlanta with 17 points each but were dominated on the boards by the Heat. Miami, which has now won two in a row against the Hawks, outrebounded Atlanta 47-31.
Before Sunday night, you had to flip the calendar back 95 weeks to April 2, 2014, to find the last time the Heat put together a regular-season winning streak of four games.
The starting lineup that night: Bosh, Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Toney Douglas and James. Miami then won its first six games of the playoffs before falling to the Spurs in the Finals.