Five takeaways from the Heat’s 100-92 victory against the dreadful Knicks at Madison Square Garden, allowing Miami to remain in the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference:
▪ The 7-11 backcourt is back together, and as Dion Waiters said, “Business is booming.”
So here’s what has happened in the two games that Goran Dragic (No. 7) and Dion Waiters (No. 11) have started together this season, both in the past three days and both Heat wins:
Dragic had his second career triple double in one of them, Thursday against the Mavericks.
And Waiters scored a season-high 28 in the other, Saturday’s win against the Knicks.
“There’s just something about it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of a starting backcourt that has been reunited amid injuries to Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. “I can’t even explain it [but] when he and Goran play together, [Waiters] just has a different rhythm and confidence playing off of Goran. We definitely need it.”
Waiters puts it this way: “Playing with him so long, understanding his tendencies, how to get him going, what he likes, what he doesn’t like. 7-11, business is booming. You’ve got to let them know.”
Dragic, who had 10 points and 10 assists, explained it this way: “We got that chemistry. Me and Dion already proved [the previous two seasons], we just know how to play together. He was hot today. I let him run the show. I was more facilitating. My shot didn’t fall in, but it didn’t matter. Dion was here and he was tremendous for us.”
Waiters shot 16 three-pointers – which he said is too much for his liking – and hit six of them but also scored on several forays to the basket en route to finishing 11 for 23. Erik Spoelstra said he likes the mix that Waiters has struck between drives and threes but still wants him to get in better shape. (Waiters said Saturday morning he’s at 223 pounds and would be best at 215.)
“He’s just getting in better shape,” Spoelstra said. “When he gets in optimal level - and he’s still not there, and we’ll fight him on this until he gets there - he’s a totally different player. He’s getting better game rhythm. He went in the bag a bit too many times in the second half when he had opportunities just to get off the ball. But he’s explosive and can put up points in a hurry.”
▪ Dwyane Wade’s final appearance at Madison Square Garden included the expected warm embrace, 16 points and a win.
Wade received a loud standing ovation when he entered the game, and Knicks fans serenaded him with chants of D-Wade and MVP at various times.
Knicks coach David Fizdale, a former Heat assistant coach who’s close with Wade, handled the Knicks’ tribute to Wade with a taped video message during a first-half timeout.
“Since the moment I met D-Wade, I knew I was dealing with someone special,” he said. “… Tonight, as you make your final appearances [at MSG], the Knicks, our city would like to salute you on a great career.”
Wade then embraced Fizdale and acknowledged the crowd, pounding his heart.
Wade, who calls MSG his favorite road arena, had six points and two assists in the fourth quarter (which began with the score tied), and then stayed afterward to sign autographs. A rail in the stands broke as Wade signed, but Wade wasn’t hurt and there were no serious injuries.
“Last time as a player here; I wanted to enjoy it,” he said. “Fans stayed around. It was so cool. On the road, you don’t expect that. Wish I had more time to spend with them; it was a little chaotic.”
Spoelstra said it was “like the twilight zone” because “I’m still of the old Pat Riley generation, with [Jeff] Van Gundy and all them on the other side. To hear all the cheers and ‘let’s go Heat’ [from Knicks fans], it feels strange. but that’s the impact of a Hall of Fame player, and I’m glad he’s on our side.”
▪ Hassan Whiteside had one of his most impactful games since being moved to the bench.
Whiteside had 12 of his 17 points in the fourth and pulled down nine fourth quarter rebounds as Miami built a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Whiteside finished with 17 points (on 7 for 10 shooting) and 13 rebounds and a block in 20 minutes, and played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter.
So what happened with Whiteside?
“He got angry,” Spoelstra said. “When he plays to that intensity level, he’s a totally different player. A lot of that defense down the stretch was Hassan really covering ground, communicating, protecting the rim. He was playing with great force.”
So why was Whiteside angry?
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I’m glad we got the win. Came in, played hard.”
Whiteside hasn’t complained after playing only five minutes in two recent games. What’s allowed him to handle his bench role and reduced minutes professionally?
“My [young] son,” he said. “He brings me a peace I never had. He keeps me from overthinking. He don’t care if I had 20 and 20, a triple double, if I played one minute [or] if I played 30 minutes. He’s just happy to see me.”
▪ Udonis Haslem still has a knack for knowing when to admonish teammates.
Haslem scolded them at halftime for deficient first half defense and Miami responded in the second half, holding the Knicks to 31 points on 12 for 36 shooting. Conversely, the Knicks scored 61 points in the first half on 46.3 percent shooting.
“I didn’t say much [at halftime],” Spoelstra said. “It was UD in the last huddle we had in the second quarter and UD at halftime. The guys obviously will listen when he gets that angry. We were in a fog in the first half. It wasn’t winning basketball. In the second half, we committed to much harder efforts defensively and that really paved the way.”
Haslem said he can’t “control” when he erupts at teammates but “the good thing is I learned to stop breaking stuff.”
At halftime Saturday, he made the point that even though “we got a couple guys out, probably our best perimeter players [Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow], I wanted to let guys know there’s no excuse. Everybody knows what their job is. We’ve got to go out and win this game, regardless of who’s not playing.
“Our defense was not Miami Heat defense. It was not X’s and O’s. It was effort. We make a commitment to one another to control the effort areas of the game and let coaches control the X’s and O’s. If we stick to that formula, I like our chances every night.”
▪ The Heat remains exactly where it started the night, in eighth in the East.
This was one Miami desperately needed, not only because it was the easiest game left on its schedule, but also because its three primary challengers for playoffs spots all won: Brooklyn beating Boston (which didn’t play Kyrie Irving or Al Horford), Orlando winning at Indiana and Detroit defeating Portland.
In the process, Miami - which got back to .500 at 38-38 - remained in the No. 8 spot, one half game ahead of No. 9 Orlando and one half game back of No. 7 Brooklyn and one game back of No. 6 Detroit.
“Nobody is giving anything up right now and we can’t expect them to,” Spoelstra said.