So how can this be happening?
How can a team that averaged more points than only lowly Philadelphia for the first 3 1/2 months of the season transform into the Eastern Conference’s most prolific scoring team after the All-Star break, then generate Golden State-type offensive numbers in building a 2-0 first-round playoff lead against Charlotte?
And doing all of this without leading scorer Chris Bosh?
“I don’t have that answer; I just know we needed to,” Dwyane Wade said late Wednesday night of the Heat’s faster tempo and offensive renaissance since February. “When we lost Chris, we needed to change what we were doing. Luckily, we had the personnel to do it.”
The numbers are staggering: The Heat went from averaging 96 points before the All-Star break to 107.4, behind only the Warriors, Oklahoma City, Portland and Houston. That’s the fourth-biggest jump in NBA history, Elias said Thursday.
When we lost Chris (Bosh), we needed to change what we were doing. Luckily, we had the personnel to do it.
Dwyane Wade, on the Heat’s changes since losing Chris Bosh
The Heat went from shooting 46 percent overall pre-break to a league-best 48.7 post-break, and from 32.3 on three-pointers to 36.5 after.
The postseason numbers are shock- and awe-inducing: The Heat is averaging 119 points in the playoffs — 10 more than any other team — and shooting 57.8 percent in the postseason and 52.9 percent on threes. Wade has been at elite efficiency in this series.
“I like the fact the individuals in this locker room, once they realized we had to switch things up when Chris was out, that everyone was comfortable doing it,” Wade said. “It made all of our jobs a lot easier. We were able to let go of guys. We really let Luol [Deng] go, see what he can do. Hassan [Whiteside] was a pleasant surprise offensively. It just all worked out.”
119 The Heat’s points-per-game average in the playoffs — 10 more than any other team — and shooting 57.8 percent in the postseason and 52.9 percent on threes.
With his team sputtering offensively, Erik Spoelstra knew “we had to do something” and implemented offensive changes in late January, then made more at the All-Star break when Bosh was sidelined.
Miami went from 94.7 possessions per 48 minutes in the first half of the season (29th in the league) to 97.7 after (18th).
But Miami and Charlotte averaged only 90.4 possessions apiece in the first two games (lowest among playoff teams), and so this offensive explosion goes beyond pushing pace. This is also about peak player performance.
Deng, who shifted from small forward to power forward when Bosh was sidelined, went from averaging 10.6 points before the break to 15.2 after, and 23.5 so far in the postseason. Goran Dragic has gone from 12.6 to 17.3, Whiteside from 12.2 to 17.5.
Josh Richardson shot a league-best 53.3 percent on threes after the All-Star break. And Joe Johnson averaged 13.4 points on exceptional 51.4 percent shooting since joining the Heat.
In the case of Dragic and Deng, in particular, the faster pace has gone hand-in-hand with improved production.
“It’s really a credit to the coaching staff,” Deng said. “We knew we had to play fast. I realized after the break in Atlanta, by setting quick screens and cutting and being aggressive, I had a lot better looks than in the first half. Then the whole team believed in it. Our energy was a lot better.”
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said slowing this steamrolling Heat offense isn’t as simple as changing schemes or lineups.
It’s really a credit to the coaching staff. We knew we had to play fast. I realized after the break in Atlanta, by setting quick screens and cutting and being aggressive, I had a lot better looks than in the first half. Then the whole team believed in it. Our energy was a lot better.
Luol Deng, Heat forward
Keep in mind the Hornets were ninth in scoring defense this season, allowing 100.7 points per game.
“They aren’t running sets that we’re having trouble with coverages on; it’s one-on-one stuff,” said Clifford, who praised Spoelstra for putting different players on the baseline at different times, creating headaches for opposing defenses. “[And in Game 2] they shot the ball really well from the perimeter. They made a lot of shots you can live with.”
Clifford put it this way: “Dragic hit three threes, all step-back threes. You go into most games saying if he’s going to shoot step-back jumpers off the dribble from above the break, you can live with that. Justise Winslow shot a high percentage from 17, 18 feet. Most nights you are going to say that’s something you can live with.
“Richardson and Deng you’ve got to take away. [But] you can’t take away everything. [Distance shooting] is not their strength. Is Dragic a guy that’s capable of making threes? Yes. Is that what you want him doing versus driving to the basket? Yes. On nights he’s going to make three for three [on threes], they’re probably going to win.
“Dragic makes two threes, and all of a sudden we’re overextending. We’re opening up driving gaps. Winslow hits a couple jumpers, then all of a sudden we’re giving Wade room, Johnson room. You have to stay with the game plan. When those guys hit jumpers and we got spread out, that’s when Wade got going.
“If Wade has room, he’s getting in the paint against anyone.”
So can this offensive carnival continue when the series shifts to Charlotte on Saturday?
“We can’t expect to take this same offensive game on the road,” Wade said. “If that ever happens praise God, thank you. We got to expect to win these games with our defense, and our defense has to be better.”
▪ Clifford said he isn’t optimistic that Nic Batum (ankle) can play in Game 3. Cleveland.com reported that Batum will miss the rest of the first round.