The red-hot Miami Heat took its 10-game winning streak on the road to Minnesota on Sunday afternoon without yet making a decision on the future of rookie forward Okaro White, whose second 10-day contract was set to expire by midnight Monday.
A team spokesman confirmed White, who has been allowed to play for the Heat through a special 16th-player exception because of long-term injuries to four other players up until this point, boarded the team’s flight along with everyone else healthy on the roster. It’s a sign the Heat (21-30) was likely working up until the last possible minute to either trade or release another player to make room for White on the roster.
White, who has averaged 4.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in 16.4 minutes in the nine games he has played for the Heat, said after Saturday’s blowout of the 76ers he was “still in wait mode.”
The most likely candidate to be cut or traded to make room for White is forward Derrick Williams, who is on a one-year, $4.6 million deal and has played only nine minutes during the Heat’s streak.
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“You can see why we like him,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of White after Saturday’s game. “He’s a Miami Heat guy, a lot of intangibles, those winning plays that we keep on talking about — Okaro has a knack for those, just like Rodney McGruger has a knack for those kind of plays. Most of those plays often times don’t show up in a boxscore.”
ON FIRE FROM THREE
As amazing as Hassan Whiteside was for the Heat in Saturday’s win with 30 points and 20 rebounds, 76ers coach Brett Brown was equally effusive in his praise of Heat guard Dion Waiters, who had 21 points, seven assists and was 5 of 6 on three-point attempts.
“You go back and you look at some of the teams that they have beaten [during this win streak], and you look at the way they’re playing, and he’s really playing at a hard-to-guard level,” Brown said of Waiters, who during this win streak is plus-105 in plus/minus (fifth-best in the NBA) and is averaging 21.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and shooting 51.2 percent and 53.4 percent from three-point range.
“I feel like we talked a lot on the bench about how difficult individually they are to guard.”
What has helped the Heat become the second-best rated offense in the league (110.0) behind only Golden State during this win streak has been a vastly improved three-point-shooting touch by Waiters and others who were struggling earlier in the season such as Luke Babitt and Wayne Ellington.
Before he got hot from beyond the arc during this winning streak, Waiters was shooting 36.7 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from three. He has raised his season shooting percentages to 42.0 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from three-point range just on what he has done in the past 10 games alone.
“I don’t know what he changed, but he’s playing unbelievable,” said Goran Dragic, who has made 54.1 percent of his 37 three-point attempts during the Heat’s winning streak and is making a career-best 42.9 percent of his threes this season, the sixth-best percentage in the league. “Dion just needs to keep shooting. He’s making all the shots. We need to pass the ball to him.”
During this streak, the Heat has averaged 11.3 made threes per game (sixth-most in the league), attempted 26.4 threes per game (only 20th) and is leading the league in accuracy at 42.8 percent. Prior to the win streak, Miami ranked 23rd in makes (8.6) and 26th in accuracy (33.8 percent).
Dragic, who made both of his three-point attempts Saturday, has made at least one trey in a career-best 14 consecutive games. It is the longest such streak by a Heat player since Ray Allen hit a three-point field goal in 15 consecutive games from March 14 to April 16, 2014.
“Spacing, that’s been the crucial thing,” Dragic said of what’s been the key to the Heat’s overall offensive improvement from beyond the arc. “Then attacking, getting inside the paint. That gives us a lot of open shots from the three-point line. When we’re attacking the defense shrinks on us. We just need to make the right play and then, of course, make the shots.”
▪ Counting Saturday’s blowout victory, Miami has scored at least 100 points in each of the past eight games and in 10 of the past 11 games overall. Prior to that, the Heat scored 100 points in only 15 of its first 40 games this season. Miami also owns the best defensive rating in the league (98.6) over this win streak.
▪ Tyler Johnson played 34 minutes and had 16 points, six rebounds and six assists in an encouraging performance Saturday, his third game back from a shoulder injury that cost him five games.
“My shoulder is moving a lot differently than it what it was [earlier in the season],” Johnson said. “So it’s taking a little bit to get adjusted. But I thought it felt really good [Saturday] and I was able to do everything without second guessing.”
Monday: Heat at Timberwolves
When/where: 8 p.m.; Target Center, Minneapolis, Minn.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 30-22.
Scouting report: Josh Richardson (sprained left foot) made the trip with the Heat but will not play. … Minnesota lost guard Zach LaVine to a season-ending knee injury in a loss to Detroit on Friday. Minnesota has lost three in a row after winning five of six.