Miami Heat

Is living and dying by the three-pointer the Miami Heat’s new way of life?

Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters and guard Goran Dragic talk during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mon., Oct. 30, 2017, in Miami.
Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters and guard Goran Dragic talk during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mon., Oct. 30, 2017, in Miami. AP

There are only five teams in the league hoisting more three-point shots than the Miami Heat has averaged through its first 13 games this season.

The Heat, which shattered its previous franchise record for three-point attempts (27.0 per game) and makes (9.9) last season, is on a record pace to break both those marks again this season, averaging 31.3 attempts and 11.0 makes per game.

To say the Heat has become a team that lives and dies by the three isn’t a stretch anymore. Entering Wednesday’s game against the Wizards, Miami was 6-2 when it makes double-digit threes and 0-5 when it doesn’t.

So do the Heat have to be careful not to become too dependent on three-point shots falling to win games moving forward?

“When we starting missing those three-point shots,” point guard Goran Dragic said with a smirk on Tuesday. “We started [Sunday’s] game well [11 of 23 on three-pointers in the first half]. But still, that cannot keep our identity away. We’re still an attacking team that tries to get inside the paint. When you’re doing both, when you’re getting layups and points in the paint and three balls, then it’s much easier. But if you’re not making layups and not making threes [Miami was 2 of 14 on threes in the second half Sunday], then it’s really tough.

“And that’s what happened probably in the last game. We started the game really well and we shot the ball well, but then we kind of went away from our identity. We didn’t attack. Their defense had to do a lot with our success, but we need to figure out how to attack different teams.”

Sunday’s first half to second half discrepancy wasn’t an anomaly. In the first half of games this season, Miami ranks second in the league to only Indiana in three-point shooting, converting 43.1 percent on 16.1 attempts (fourth-most in the league). In the second half, the Heat is taking slightly fewer attempts (14.9, tied for 11th most), but ranks dead-last in percentage (26.3 percent).

Why is that happening? As a drive and kick team (the Heat ranks second in the NBA in drives to the basket with 56.0 per game and leads the league in passes on those drives at 36.3 percent), opponents have either made the adjustments at halftime to make it harder for Miami to find the shot it likes. Or, as Dragic points out, the Heat has simply stopped working as hard to find the shots it prefers to take and works best for the offense.

“If [the three-point shot] comes out of penetration and then you kick the ball, first of all it’s an easier shot and it’s a shot in rhythm,” Dragic said. “The second thing is if you’re shooting those threes [off the] dribble that means you didn’t have good open shots. Or, maybe [the defender] goes under the screen. If they are under the screen, that’s a good shot. [But] we don’t want to have a lot of those. We want to penetrate and kick the ball out and to have our feet set and try to shoot that.”

The proof is in the numbers. As a catch-and-shoot team the Heat is converting at a 36.3 percent clip (18th in the league) on three-pointers. When Miami attempts pull-up three-point shots it converts at only 29.6 percent.

Here are a couple more numbers to consider why the Heat’s three-point shooting numbers aren’t as good as last year’s 30-11 second half (39 percent, third-best mark in the league):

Miami is finishing at a lower percentage on shots in the paint (36.2 percent) than it did a year ago (42.0 percent), which means the Heat simply isn’t making teams pay for cutting off passing lanes as often.

And corner three-pointers – a shot all NBA teams covet – have also been falling at a much lower clip (33.6 percent) compared to last season (39.1 percent).

“It’s still a good shot for us,” Dragic said of the corner threes. “You need to take it if it’s open. Of course, some games you’re shooting the ball better. Some days not.

“But it’s still there. It’s still open, especially if we dribble through because they’re so afraid of Hassan [Whiteside] as a lob threat that they bring guys in. Usually that corner three is open or the three on the 45 [degree angle].”

The bottomline: the Heat needs three-pointers to fall or on most nights it doesn’t stand much of a chance to win. Miami was 27-11 last season when it made double-digit threes in a game and 14-30 when it didn’t.

The only stat from last season equally telling toward the team’s success: the Heat was 11-3 when it held opponent to 40 percent shooting or less.

“No one cares who shoots on this team. We know how hard everyone works on this team. They’re going to eventually start falling,” co-captain James Johnson said. “We just can't rely on that regardless if we go through a stretch of shooting the ball well for one month, two months. We still have to rely on our defense and keep our defensive habits intact.”

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