Barry Jackson

Heat’s role players making themselves relevant in 4-game win streak

Dion Waiters speaks to media after last-second shot beats Golden State Warriors

Dion Waiters addressed the media after his shot with 0.6 seconds remaining gave the Miami Heat a 105-102 lead over the Golden State Warriors it would not relinquish on Jan. 23, 2017.
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Dion Waiters addressed the media after his shot with 0.6 seconds remaining gave the Miami Heat a 105-102 lead over the Golden State Warriors it would not relinquish on Jan. 23, 2017.

This seemingly-out-of-nowhere Heat four–game winning streak has been mostly about the excellence of the Heat’s starting backcourt — including back-to-back career high scoring totals from Dion Waiters — Hassan Whiteside’s relentlessness on the boards and James Johnson’s diverse skills and ability to fill the box score in multiple categories.

But several role players — most with limited if any NBA experience — are also helping out, as Miami embarks on a two-game trip beginning Wednesday in Brooklyn:

▪ Okaro White: Signed last Tuesday to a 10-day contract, the rangy 6-8 forward not only is contributing but getting a chance to play meaningful minutes. After logging six fourth-quarter minutes Saturday against Milwaukee, he logged six more in the fourth on Monday against Golden State, including being twice summoned off the bench to briefly replace Whiteside late when the Warriors went to Hack-a-Hassan.

White said he’s surprised to be playing clutch minutes and believes some of the high-end players on the other team have no idea who he is.

“He’s a tough, tough kid,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We like his DNA, the fabric that it brings. He’s not afraid of the moment. But he’s also trained with us. If he didn’t have that background of summer league, being here all summer, training camp and developing with us, I wouldn’t feel any kind of comfort level throwing him out there like that.”

▪ Willie Reed: The backup center’s production generally has been consistent in the minutes allotted, with six points, seven rebounds and a block in less than 11 minutes against Golden State.

“He’s arguably been our most improved player since the first day of training camp,” Spoelstra said.

▪ Forward Rodney McGruder. The numbers are modest (5.5 points, 37.4 percent shooting) but the Heat staff raves about the defensive work he has done against top players from other teams.

“I trust him; more importantly, his teammates trust him,” Spoelstra said. “He fought and scrapped for everything just to be on this roster but then he starts making you play him. I love guys like that. I don’t know if we’ve had anybody in the last six weeks be called upon to defend that many star level, Hall of Fame All Star level players at every position.

“You go down the line, his week was LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, moves on to Chris Paul at the point, moves on to Paul Millsap, Paul George, Kevin Durant, by the way take the other MVP, [Steph] Curry on the next possession. He takes all those challenges. He loves it.”

▪ Luke Babbitt. His 36.5 average on three-pointers is well below his 39.7 career mark, but he hit three three-pointers in four attempts against Golden State and had a high-season six rebounds while starting for the 12th consecutive game in which he was available. Goran Dragic said Babbitt has real value in spacing the floor.

“Now he’s shooting the type of threes we want him to shoot,” Spoelstra said.

Babbitt said he never grew frustrated when his shot wasn’t falling because it “was a small sample size.” He said Monday’s win “validates some of the things we’re doing.”

WAITERS FALLOUT

In matching his career point with 33 points in consecutive games, Waiters also became the first player in Heat history to score at least 30 points and hit at least five three-pointers in consecutive games. He relished being able to hit the game-winning shot in Monday’s 105-102 victories.

“He’s been pestering me about those kind of deals in the fourth quarter and having an opportunity to make plays,” Spoelstra said. “He and I go at it all the time. But it’s great.”

Waiters said: “Sometimes, I just know Coach just believes in me and wants me to be great. He’s on me hard a lot. I’m the type of guy, I need that.”

Golden State’s Kevin Durant, who played with Waiters in Oklahoma City, said: “He looks more comfortable. He has the ball in his hands a lot, something that he always wanted. You can tell he’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and they’re trusting him a little bit more. “I’m happy for him. You can tell that he’s enjoying it.”

▪ Heat guard Tyler Johnson, who has missed two games with a left shoulder strain, said he will not travel with the team Tuesday on a two-game trip to Brooklyn and Chicago.

He said he doesn’t believe the injury is serious and will not need surgery.

“I still think it’s day to day,” he said. “It’s not so much pain. More irritation.”

Wednesday: Heat at Nets

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; Brooklyn, N.Y.

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).

Series: Heat leads 66-46.

Scouting report: This is the first of three meetings between the teams. Miami won three of four last season. The Heat is without Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Josh McRoberts. … The Nets, who are without point guard Jeremy Lin, are 15th and last in the Eastern Conference and  5 1/2 games behind the No. 14 Heat.

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