Try to find a moment when Wayne Ellington is standing still when he’s in the game.
It hardly ever happens.
The only thing Ellington has done more on the basketball court than shoot is run and wear out opponents chasing him to prevent him from spotting up and nailing a three-pointer.
Ellington did it again on Saturday night when he nailed a game-clinching triple with 4.6 seconds remaining to give the Heat the cushion it would need to beat the Charlotte Hornets 95-91.
A big reason for Ellington’s success?
He’s in the best shape of his nine-year NBA career.
“It’s key to my game,” Ellington said before the game. “It’s at the top of the list. Obviously, getting shots up and getting reps is a big part of it but my conditioning is right there with it. If I’m not able to continue to move and be in top condition to wear guys out and continue to run and get guys tired I won’t be able to get those looks and make those types of shots.”
Ellington has made 150 three-pointers this season — a new single-season high.
That total through Saturday’s games ranks fourth in the league behind James Harden (163), Klay Thompson (161) and Stephen Curry (154).
“I’m thankful, man,” Ellington said. “I’m gonna keep grinding and hopefully we set a nice number for me to beat again [next year].”
According to an ESPN report, Ellington has been invited to next month’s 3-point shooting contest at the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.
If Ellington does participate, he’d be the Heat’s seventh player all-time to do so and would have the chance to become the fifth to win it joining James Jones (2011), Daequan Cook (2009), Jason Kapono (2007) and Glen Rice (1995). He also could become the first former University of North Carolina player to win the event.
Ellington’s teammates have shown confidence in him shooting even at times where he’s not his sharpest. Before his clutch make in the closing seconds Saturday, Ellington had missed four three-pointers in a row in the final quarter.
“We expect every shot to go in,” Goran Dragic said. “Every time he releases that ball it looks good to us. He was joking he missed five straight before that shot. But we always believe that he’s going to make those shots. We need him because he gives us a different part of offense.”
Ellington, who is averaging a career-best 11.5 points per game, has made six threes in a game a single-season record nine times this season.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talked before and after Saturday’s win about how Ellington’s fitness level helps him elude defenders and free himself even when he’s not the primary option on a given play as was the case in the closing seconds against Charlotte.
“That’s that first prerogative is getting defenders to quit,” Spoelstra said pregame. “And then you train for that and have the ability to come off full speed and make those kinds of difficult shots that sometimes are contested, but sometimes your body’s contorted in different ways, that is an unbelievable skill that you have to train very hard for.”
Spoelstra said postgame: “[Ellington]’s a supremely conditioned, well-conditioned athlete right now in the National Basketball Association. He’s the top tier. He played probably what, 15, 16 straight minutes at full speed? He ran every wide receiver route like his life depended on it, and probably more than half the time he was a decoy. And that’s why a lot of those players opened up is he just keeps on running under, he wears the first coverage, second coverage, third coverage down and then just opens up the rest of your offense.”
Ellington, 30, said he took his workouts up a notch since joining the Heat and his current physical condition has allowed him to elevate his game to another level.
“It shows on the court,” Ellington said. “It’s elevated my game so much being able to run around and being able to defend and getting back in transition. With all aspects of the game, being in top shape really allows you to flourish.”
Derrick Jones, Jr. and Derrick Walton, Jr. have each rejoined the Heat’s G League team in Sioux Falls. Jones recently made five starts during Tyler Johnson’s absence due to an ankle injury, averaging 2.8 points and shooting 5 of 17 in 20.8 minutes per game during that span.