Tyler Johnson says Heat starting to make sharing the ball "our identity"
The Miami Heat is still hot.
Nine days after heading into the All-Star break with an impressive wire-to-wire victory in Houston, the Heat picked up right where it left off, winning for the 15th time in its past 17 games with an impressive 108-90 victory over the Hawks at Philips Arena on Friday night.
Miami made a season-high 17 three-pointers on 36 attempts, collected assists on 30 of its 40 buckets and held the Hawks — playing without suspended point guard Dennis Schroder — to 38 percent shooting.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Friday’s win? Hassan Whiteside and James Johnson each scored only two points, Miami’s starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters was a combined 11-of-35 shooting and the Heat (26-32) still had a 26-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“That’s scary,” said Waiters, who finished with 14 points, a season-high 10 assists (one off his career high) and was a team-best plus-30 in plus/minus. “That shows you how good we are, especially when we’re healthy. We just got to keep moving in the right direction.”
The Heat, which pulled within two games of the Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East heading into Saturday’s home game against Indiana, has now scored 100 points in a franchise-record 15 consecutive games. It’s a stat that even caught coach Erik Spoelstra off guard.
“Seriously?” Spoelstra answered when told of the record. “I don’t really know what to say about that. But we haven’t been emphasizing trying to score. Sometimes, if you go about it trying to do the right thing and sharing the game, good things will happen for you.”
The Heat, once the second-worst offensive team in the league at 98.3 points per game when it was 11-30, has averaged 109.5 points per game since Jan. 14 (eighth-most in the league), a testament to better execution and sharing. The assists numbers aren’t necessarily up, but the efficiency is.
“I think we’re starting to make that our identity,” said Tyler Johnson, who led six Heat double-figure scorers with 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting and had five rebounds and five assists in 25 minutes off the bench.
“Everybody feels like they’re in rhythm when everybody is touching the ball on every possession. It’s not just one guy going and trying to create. It’s everybody getting into the paint and making plays for other teammates. We’re a tough team to beat when it looks like that.”
Miami led just 25-24 after the first quarter but made seven three-pointers in the second period — the most in a quarter this season — and had 11 threes at the half, matching a season high set in Minnesota earlier this month.
“It was a day for three-point shooting,” said Whiteside, who was just 1 of 9 from the field but finished with 10 rebounds, one block and a plus-20 while receiving plenty of love from Spoelstra for setting good screens for his teammates and being a deterrent in the paint, where the Heat outscored the Hawks 38-34.
“Those guys knocked down threes, and we ran away with it.”
The Heat did show plenty of rust early, missing 14 of its first 21 shots. Waiters and Whiteside started a combined 0 for 7, and neither scored until midway through the second quarter.
But while two of the Heat’s most important weapons struggled, Tyler Johnson helped pick up the slack. He led Miami with 14 points at the half.
Before Kent Bazemore banked in a three-pointer from inside the half-court line at the first-half buzzer to trim the Heat’s lead to 63-49 at the break, Johnson’s free throws with 1.9 seconds left extended the Heat’s biggest lead of the half to 17 points.
“Miami continues to play high-level basketball on both ends of the court,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose team was also crushed by the Heat 116-93 on Feb. 1 in Miami. “A lot of credit to them. Their players are doing a great job.”
▪ Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap had 19 points at the half but scored only two points after the break and led Atlanta (32-25) with 21 points.
▪ Schroder was suspended for Friday’s game because he didn’t get back from the All-Star break on time. He missed Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices in Atlanta because he was delayed leaving his native Germany. Schroder did not have a visa on his new passport. But the Hawks didn’t accept the excuse.