The Miami Heat isn’t just winning games anymore — the Heat is doing it with some swag.
Dion Waiters, who had the first signature moment in the Heat’s stunning second-half turnaround when he stood and posed with his arms crossed after hitting his game-winning shot against the Golden State Warriors, had another instance of irrational confidence in Wednesday night’s 116-93 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks at AmericanAirlines Arena.
After stealing the ball from All-Star Paul Millsap in Atlanta’s backcourt and scoring on a left-handed layup to put the Heat up by 20 midway through the third quarter, Waiters, who now goes by the nickname “Philly Cheese” in Miami’s locker room, held up his left hand and stared at it. The Heat bench stood up and did the same.
“Just having fun, just enjoying it,” Waiters said of his stop-and-stare moment. “Sometimes, I don’t even realize what I’m doing half the time. I’m just in the heat of the moment.”
The Heat’s ninth win in a row didn’t just feel good Wednesday night — it looked good, too.
Miami (20-30) made 12 three-pointers, blocked a season-high 10 shots, won the battle in the paint 54-36 and held the Hawks (28-21) to 39.5 percent shooting.
Waiters poured in 20 points, and added seven rebounds and three assists. Goran Dragic had 27 points, five rebounds and five assists, and Hassan Whiteside chimed in with 18 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks.
It was a runaway from start to finish — but it ended with some fireworks.
With 5:53 remaining things got heated when seldom-used Hawks forward Taurean Prince grabbed Whiteside by the back of his arm as he went up for a dunk, and the Heat’s $98 million center came crashing down hard onto the court, wincing in pain as he reached for his back. Prince was ejected. So was James Johnson, who came sprinting to the defense of Whiteside and got in the face of Prince, shoving him in the process. Waiters was also hit with a technical.
“The guy — he just wrapped me up. It was a dangerous play,” said Whiteside, who didn’t know until after the game it was Prince who had slammed him to the court because teammates wouldn’t tell him who had done it. “Fake tough guy — that’s what happened.”
Whiteside said he’s going to pay Johnson’s $2,000 fine for being ejected, plus whatever he’s hit with for defending him.
“It was just instincts, instincts of a brother, instincts of a teammate who cares,” Johnson said of why he ran to Whiteside’s defense. “We’re building something here, and he was being aggressive and physical. Whiteside went down and that’s all I remember after that.”
With Wednesday’s win, the Heat moved to within 3 1/2 games of the Charlotte Hornets for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 32 games to go.
On Wednesday, the Heat was moving the ball around on offense with ease, collecting 23 assists on its 45 field goals.
Miami trailed 7-2 early but went on an 11-0 run and never trailed again. The Heat stretched its lead to 16 points in the second quarter and led 62-47 at the half. The lead eventually stretched to 26 in the fourth quarter. All the while, the defensive intensity never waned.
“I don’t think our lead going into the fourth quarter has anything to do with what our goals are when it comes to holding teams [from scoring] in the fourth quarter,” said Johnson, who had 16 points, two rebounds, three assists and three blocks in 23 minutes. “You build habits like that whether you’re up 20 or down 10. If you hold teams like that in the fourth quarter, then a lot of good things can happen.”
Kent Bazemore led Atlanta with 14 points.
The Hawks came in having won 13 of their previous 17 games. But down 94-71 at the end of the third quarter, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer emptied his bench.
“You can see why they have won nine games in a row now,” Budenholzer said of the Heat. “On both ends of the court, their activity, their aggressiveness, I’m just really impressed with their players, with their coaching staff and everything they are doing.”