Miami Heat

Backcourt helps Miami Heat beat Milwaukee Bucks for first three-game winning streak of season

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic reacts after a play during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 21, 2017, in Miami.
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic reacts after a play during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 21, 2017, in Miami. AP

How does an NBA team go from winning twice in 31 days to winning three times in five?

In the Heat’s case, it begins with exemplary work from its backcourt, a trend that continued with Saturday’s 109-97 dispatching of visiting Milwaukee.

With Dion Waiters scoring 33 and Goran Dragic adding 25, the Heat produced its first three-game winning streak of the season after failing in three previous attempts.

“That takes us to a whole other level when they play like that,” center Hassan Whiteside said of the Heat’s starting guards.

Waiters, who scored 20 in the first half, matched his career scoring high, achieved for Oklahoma City in 2015 against Minnesota.

He was consistently able to finish at the rim, something that had been a vexing shortcoming all season.

Waiters, who entered shooting 37.4 percent from the field and 31 percent on three-pointers, shot an efficient 12 for 19 overall, including 5 for 8 on threes.

“Coaches told me to be aggressive, be me, do what I do best, get to the rack,” he said. “I get there with the best of them. It’s about me finishing when I get there. I work on it every day.”

Waiters said Dragic has given him tips to become a better finisher, including “being physical, lowering my shoulder.”

With Tyler Johnson sidelined by a strained left shoulder, Waiters assumed much of the ball-handling duties when Dragic wasn’t on the floor.

Dragic, meanwhile, followed up Thursday’s 32-point game against Dallas by shooting 8 for 13 and dishing out six assists. He capped his night with a 30-footer with 1:27 left. He’s averaging 21.9 points over his past nine games.

“Goran has had a career year; this is not something that’s happening right now,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s been doing this all season. He’s such a conscientious teammate. We have all these moving parts and he’s trying to make sure everyone is comfortable. He knows he has to be aggressive for us and generate good looks.”

Dragic said scoring in high volume again “is fun. [But] the most fun is winning.”

With Wayne Ellington scoring 15, the Heat’s guards outscored Milwaukee’s, 73-26.

On a night Miami shot 53.2 percent, Hassan Whiteside was 7 for 8 from the field while posting another double-double (16 points, 15 rebounds), to go along with two blocks.

“I didn’t realize was 7 for 7” at one point, he said.

Though James Johnson struggled from the field (3 for 12), he chipped in six assists.

And forward Okaro White, signed to a 10-day contract earlier last week, played half the fourth quarter.

“I feel very comfortable with Okaro, having him in summer league and training camp,” Spoelstra said. “What you saw tonight was what we liked about him — can defend multiple positions, active. He finds a way to fit in.”

But the story was the Heat’s starting backcourt, which has been very good in wins against Houston, Dallas and Milwaukee to open this homestand that concludes Monday against Golden State.

“The backcourt was relentless, off the dribble making the right plays,” Spoelstra said. “They generated a lot of solid offense for us.”

Waiters said he’s feeling “great” after missing 20 games earlier this season because of a groin injury.

Miami was 5-15 in those games.

Regarding his improvement on finishing drives, Spoelstra said Waiters “has been working at it incessantly. That was one of the things we have been working on with him. Even on an off day [Friday], he was working with our coaches for a couple hours.”

How does Spoelstra feel after the first three-game winning streak?

“It feels better than 0-3,” he said. “Guys are getting a lot more comfortable, getting more consistent to our identity. I marvel at this group all season long even through some of the toughest adversities we faced, guys have been coming in to work and improve. You’re starting to see that a little bit.”

Miami, at 14-30, is still seven games behind the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls, who hold the final playoff seed at the moment.

“Definitely the chemistry is different,” Dragic said. “It’s fun now. We’re going in the right direction.”

• The Bucks, who were led by All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 24 points, lost their fifth in a row and have allowed between 109 and 113 points in all five of them.

Milwaukee forward Jabari Parker, who entered averaging 20.5 points, didn’t start because he violated a team rule, Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. He came off the bench to score 16 points in 32 minutes.