Miami Heat

Is this best stretch of Heat’s season? After win over Nets, Spoelstra says: ‘You can make a case’

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 117-88 blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets (32-33) on Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena:

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1. Don’t look now, but what has been one of the league’s worst offenses this season has been one of the league’s best over the past week.

The Heat (28-34) continued its hot stretch, with 117 points on 49.4 percent shooting from the field and 14-of-34 shooting on threes. Miami also committed just 12 turnovers and dished out a season-high 36 assists on 44 made baskets.

Over the past four games, the Heat has posted the league’s second-best offensive rating (121.1 points per 100 possessions) since Monday. Miami has also averaged the fourth-most points (120.5) on the second-best shooting percentage (50.1) and second-best three-point shooting percentage (42.7) during this stretch.

“Our offense has been trending much better for a while,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Defensively, that’s the inconsistency that we’ve had. But I like the direction where that side of the floor has been going. Even late in games and these close games, even the ones that we’ve lost, our coherency and execution is significantly better than what it was earlier in the year.”

What’s been the difference for the Heat’s offense?

“Early in the year, I think we had an inconsistency of moving the ball,” Dwyane Wade said. “I think we’ve been a lot better at trying to move the ball and trying to get it around, trying to make the defense guard more than just one action. We do have times when we revert back to just one action and coach keeps telling us we have to trust it, we have to move the ball. When we’re doing it that way, everyone feels involved and also you get to make the defense shift. That’s the recipe for success for us on the offensive end and we’ve been getting to it for the last couple of games.”

Taking out Monday’s home loss to the struggling Suns, Spoelstra said: “You can make a case this has been the best three-game-set [win over Warriors, loss to Rockets and win over Nets] we’ve played all season long. It’s only garnered two wins, but it’s been good basketball. Against Houston, it just simply wasn’t good enough. It was a quality team. But you just keep on working at it, and then we have a game like this that was much needed at home.”

For a Heat team that entered ranked 27th in the league in points scored per game (105.7), 24th in team shooting percentage (44.9), 29th in team free-throw shooting percentage (69.2), 23rd in turnovers per game (15.1) and 24th in offensive rating (106.6 points scores per 100 possessions), the past week has represented quite the turnaround.

While Miami’s recent offensive numbers will be hard to sustain, it is now 9-2 this season when posting an offensive rating of 118 or better.

2. This Kelly Olynyk-Bam Adebayo frontcourt really seems to work.

It was an effective frontcourt tandem last season, when the Heat outscored teams by 96 points with Olynyk and Adebayo playing together. And it’s continued to be effective this season, with a plus-minus of plus-57 in 643 minutes together.

“The two of them playing how they play off of each other, it really helps our offense,” Spoelstra said. “They are both really good screeners. You can throw the ball to them and run off-ball actions with them. Defensively, they’ve learned how to make it work and be effective together. But KO’s confidence is growing, seemingly, each game and he is doing it against good teams. As much as our offense has improved, a big part of that has been his confidence and his growth in our offense.”

Olynyk continued the best stretch of his season, with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, six rebounds and four assists on Saturday. He’s averaging 22.3 points on 64.8 percent shooting from the field and 57.9 percent shooting on threes in his past four games.

“There’s a few guys in here that just have the ultra green light and he’s one of them,” Wade said of Olynyk. “We want him to use it more. We love when he’s aggressive. When he’s aggressive, the defense is very aware of it and they close out to him a lot. He’s one of our best triggers on the floor, as well. We rely on him a lot out there in the starting lineup. He’s comfortable right now.”

Adebayo also turned in a strong performance against the Nets, with nine points, 16 rebounds and six assists. He’s averaging 10 points, 9.7 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in the past three games while starting in place of the injured Hassan Whiteside.

Once Whiteside returns from a strained left hip, the Heat’s coaching staff faces some tough decisions with Adebayo and Olynyk playing so well together.

The Whiteside-Olynyk combination is a plus-20 in 379 minutes this season. But the Whiteside-Adebayo pairing is a minus-six in just 14 minutes this season. As the numbers show, Miami has pretty much stayed away from playing Whiteside and Adebayo together up to this point.

So, finding a way to split Whiteside and Adebayo’s minutes next to Olynyk remains the challenge for the Heat’s coaches.

“I think we’re just playing really well as a team, moving the ball and complementing each other’s skill sets,” Olynyk said. “Bam is a great on-ball defender, pick-and-rolls. Offensively, he’s just active. Getting to the rim fast, offensive rebounds, spacing, active cutter, dives and stuff. For me, it’s just all about using my versatility, whether it’s spacing, being a screener or roller, cutting on the baseline and trying to get everybody involved, moving the ball. When we’re playing like that, the whole unit is playing well together.”

3. In the middle of the Heat’s efficient offensive performance, Dion Waiters struggled to make shots. Miami’s starting shooting guard finished with seven points on 2-of-10 shooting, but he still made an impact with eight rebounds and seven assists.

Waiters is averaging 10.3 points on 40.3 percent shooting, 2.6 rebounds and three assists in 24.3 minutes in 24 games since returning in early January from ankle surgery.

A big chunk of Waiters’ shots are coming from three-point range, with 5.8 of his 9.7 shots per game coming from behind the arc. He’s averaging eight drives to the basket, which is down from his average of 14 drives per game in his first season with the Heat in 2016-17.

When Waiters’ attacking style returns, then we’ll know he’s all the way back.

4. It doesn’t happen often, but Udonis Haslem got first-quarter minutes against the Nets.

Haslem was the fourth player used off the Heat’s bench, and he logged 3:33 of playing time in the opening period. It marked the most first-quarter minutes he’s played since a Jan. 1, 2017 loss to the Pistons and just the fourth first quarter he’s played in since the start of the 2017-18 season.

In his 16th NBA season, the 38-year-old Haslem really doesn’t play much anymore. He finished Saturday’s win with no stats in 3:46 of action in just his sixth appearance of the season.

Haslem played ahead of James Johnson, who received a DNP-coach’s decision despite being available after missing the previous four games with a slight AC sprain in left shoulder.

“He was on my radar,” Spoelstra said of Johnson. “I went with this group, and we didn’t necessarily need to go a little bit deeper. He’s going to continue to work and make sure that his shoulder feels 100 percent right.”

5. The Heat accomplished two things Saturday that it’s struggled with this season. It won at home and it held on to a lead from start to finish.

With the victory, Miami improved its record at AmericanAirlines Arena to 13-18. With back-to-back home wins, it matched its season-long home winning streak of two.

“Our guys have been very aware of what we’ve been doing in front of our fans,” Spoelstra said. “Guys wanted to play well in front of our home crowd.”

The Heat also never trailed against the Nets, as its lead ballooned to as many as 31 points. Miami had given up double-digit leads in each of its previous four games before Saturday.

“We needed to keep that lead,” Wade said. “Obviously, at this time of the year everyone has games coming rapidly. You don’t want to always have to be in a four-quarter battle. We played well in our last two games. We won one of two, but we played very well in them both. Today, to have the same way we played in those games when we had big leads, but today we were able to hold the team off. It was a good team win for us.”

Even with the win, Miami remains in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and one game behind the eighth and final playoff spot occupied by the Orlando Magic.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.
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