Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade says this is the best Heat has played since he returned last year. Here’s why

Erik Spoelstra after Heat’s win over Spurs

Erik Spoelstra speaks after the Heat’s win over the Spurs on March 20, 2019.
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Erik Spoelstra speaks after the Heat’s win over the Spurs on March 20, 2019.

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 110-105 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday at AT&T Center. It marked the Heat’s third consecutive win.

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1. This is the best the Heat has played this season, and it’s not even close.

Wednesday was just a continuation of this impressive stretch, with Miami defeating the league’s hottest team. The Heat ended the Spurs’ nine-game winning streak.

Miami is 8-2 in March. The Heat has posted the league’s 15th-best offensive rating, (which is an improvement because they’ve been among the NBA’s worst offensive teams for most of the season), top defensive rating and third-best net rating during this 10-game stretch

“We’re playing as good as a group together as we’ve played since I got back here,” Dwyane Wade said. “It’s fun playing basketball with these guys this way. One thing you know, obviously with the Miami Heat, we’re going to fight, we’re going to scrap, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to be in games because of that. But now we’re executing the game plan. Everyone is playing with a lot of confidence. Even in the moments where a team goes on a run on us, we feel confident we can stop the bleeding and we can figure it out.”

Across the board, the Heat’s numbers have been better.

Miami, which has played at the second-slowest pace in the league over the past 10 games, is averaging just 12.9 turnovers in March (average 14.8 for the season). The Heat is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field (team is shooting 45.2 percent for the season) and 38.7 percent from three-point range (team is shooting 35.7 percent for the season).

On defense, though, is where the Heat has really controlled games. Mixing in its zone defense with its man-to-man look, Miami has held opponents to 41.8 percent shooting over the past 10 games, which is an improvement from the 44.3 percent teams shoot against the Heat for the season.

The Heat’s individual numbers are also telling over this 10-game span. Eight players are averaging double-digit points, Goran Dragic (14.7), Justise Winslow (14.6), Wade (14.1), Josh Richardson (12.7), Kelly Olynyk (12.4), Bam Adebayo (11.4), James Johnson (11) and Dion Waiters (10.5). And center Hassan Whiteside is contributing 9.8 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

The Heat’s only losses this month have come against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, Toronto and Milwaukee.

“It is for today,” coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked if the Heat is finding a next level to its game. “This is going to be a daily grind. I don’t think you ever arrive in this league. You just want to keep on competing and putting it all out there. Certain guys are getting more confident and comfortable. I’m all for that.”

Miami usually plays its best basketball of the season in March, and it’s happening again. The Heat is now 112-59 in March during Spoelstra’s 11 seasons as head coach, and 27-15 in March and 93-100 in the regular season in all other months since the start of 2016-17.

“We know how important this time of the year is,” Wade said. “We definitely know how important these games are. It feels good to win this way and to play the way that we’re playing, where it doesn’t matter who’s leading as long as we’re doing it together. It’s a great environment around here right now. Even the games we lost, we’ve lost to Toronto, Milwaukee and Houston. Very good teams, where we had an opportunity in those games. We’re playing good basketball.”

2. Goran Dragic said he wants rely more on his outside shot as he ages rather than driving to the basket as much as he has in the past. If these past few weeks are any indication, his game should age well.

Dragic continued his ultra-efficient shooting, with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 shooting on threes in 22 minutes off the bench against the Spurs. He scored 20 in the first half and was limited to two points over the final two quarters.

“I just got clean looks. I feel comfortable,” Dragic said. “My teammates were putting me in the right positions, especially with [James Johnson]. I feel like every time he’s setting a screen, I’m open or he’s open. Just one of those nights.”

Wade said of Dragic: “20 in the first half? I mean he’s playing very well right now. We needed that. Obviously, we were up 15 going into the break and we needed something like that. We needed every point. He’s been big for us. Coming off the bench, you got a guy who scored 20 in one half. He’s playing phenomenal.”

Since returning in February from knee surgery, the 32-year-old Dragic is averaging 15 points on 49.6 percent shooting from the field and 49 percent shooting on threes in a reserve role in 11 games. The Heat has outscored teams by 24 points with Dragic on the court during this stretch.

Miami’s offense has clearly been better with Dragic playing, as it’s posted an offensive rating of 110.1 since he returned. When he’s off the court, Miami has an offensive rating of 105.6 points scored per 100 possessions during that time.

Dragic is averaging 22.3 points on 58.5 percent shooting from the field and a ridiculous 63.6 percent shooting on threes over the past three games.

3. This was a rare win for the Heat in San Antonio. It marked Miami’s fourth-ever regular-season victory in San Antonio.

The Heat entered with just a 3-27 all-time regular-season record in San Antonio, and a 5-31 mark if their Finals matchups are included. That regular-season record is now 4-27, and Spoelstra has been the head coach for three of those wins.

The last time Miami won a regular-season game in San Antonio was on March 31, 2013, when Chris Bosh made a game-winning three with 1.9 seconds to play to lift the Heat to a 88-86 victory.

4. Wade didn’t win much in San Antonio over his career, but he definitely left an impression. With Wednesday’s win, Wade will finish his career with a 4-12 record in games played in San Antonio.

Before Wednesday’s game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked about the impression Wade left on him.

“He certainly is an iconic figure as far as NBA basketball goes,” Popovich said. “It’s not just because of the way he played — he played hard, he played to win, he had a ferocious attitude on the court — but it was matched by a wonderful smile and a great understanding of world and community off the court. And that’s what made him so special — a coveted teammate, somebody that everybody enjoyed playing with that cared about more than just basketball.”

Just minutes before the start of Wade’s final game in San Antonio, barring an unexpected Finals matchup between the Heat and Spurs, there was a thoughtful video tribute played for Wade at the AT&T Center. The minute-long video included highlights from the 2013 Finals matchup between the Heat and Spurs (which Miami won), and even had Wade’s recent game-winner against the Warriors in there.

After the video was done, Popovich met Wade at halfcourt with an embrace and handed Wade a gift sealed with a bow. Inside the box gifted to Wade were the jerseys of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to add to his collection from all of the jersey exchanges he’s done this season.

“That’s dope,” Wade said of the pregame tribute. “I knew from preseason, Pop let me know they were going to do something for me here. But that was cool. I didn’t know it was going to be before the game. I liked the music swag they had on it and the videos they put up. It was real cool, so I’m so thankful and appreciative. I don’t expect those things to happen to me at all. I just came out and did my job every night. I’m thankful for the relationships that I have. I have a great one with coach and I just appreciate what they did.”

On the court, Wade helped push the Heat to a win. The 37-year-old ended the night with 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Not a stellar game for him, but it was the plays he made down the stretch that made his performance memorable.

Wade made a difficult left-handed bank shot, which Spoelstra said is “a shot I’ve never seen him practice or attempt,” to put the Heat ahead by five with 1:23 to play. Then Wade caught DeMar DeRozan off guard and stole the ball from behind with the Heat ahead by just three and eight seconds to play.

5. The Magic won Wednesday, but so did the Heat.

So, here’s the latest.

The Heat remains in the East’s eighth and final playoff spot. No. 8 Miami is 1.5 games ahead of No. 9 Orlando and 3.5 games ahead of No. 10 Charlotte, and just one game behind No. 7 Brooklyn and 1.5 games behind No. 6 Detroit.

Next up for Miami is a Friday matchup against the top team in the East, the Bucks, in the third game of Miami’s four-game trip. The Bucks beat the Heat 113-98 in Miami on March 15.

“The biggest thing for us right now is, obviously as we try to continue to get guys back with the two guys that are out, but everyone else stay healthy so we can have all of our weapons going into each one of these games,” Wade said, with Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder nursing injuries. “It gets no easier. We go to Milwaukee and we have to play the No. 1 team in the NBA on their home floor.”

Erik Spoelstra speaks after Heat’s impressive road win over the Thunder on March 18, 2019.

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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.