Heat Check

The Heat’s improved offense was on full display in Wednesday’s win over Pistons

Miami Heat Goran Dragic and Kelly Olynyk celebrate an Olynyk basket at the end of the game that helped defeat the Detroit Pistons at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, January 3, 2018.
Miami Heat Goran Dragic and Kelly Olynyk celebrate an Olynyk basket at the end of the game that helped defeat the Detroit Pistons at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, January 3, 2018. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 111-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, which lifted Miami to 20-17 on the season and evened its record at home to 9-9.

1. The Heat’s offense continues to trend in the right direction and Wednesday night was one of it’s best performances of the season. Miami matched a season-high with 29 assists and knocked down 17 three-pointers, the third-most the team has made in a game this season. Coach Erik Spoelstra has said the Heat hasn’t created an entirely new offense over the last couple of weeks, they’ve simply become better and more efficient at what he wanted from the get-go.

Miami turned it over only three times in the second half Wednesday and 12 times total for the game. Not only did the Heat shoot 50 percent from three for the fifth time this season, but it also shot better than 50 percent from the field for the ninth time this season. Six of those better than 50 percent shooting nights from the field have come in the last 14 games. Six of the Heat’s 12 games with fewer than 12 turnovers have also come during that same stretch.

“You have to be intentional about it,” Spoelstra said of protecting the ball and running the offense after his team climbed to three games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2015-16 season.

“You have to read the defense, help each other get to our strengths. We still want to be an aggressive team. We want to get opportunities to touch the paint. Then, when we do and those layers of the offense are working with detail, it opens up a lot of open three-point shots. Tonight, it felt like we were getting the right three-point shots. Extra pass, good screens that would lead to what we call one more, or good to great opportunity. That’s good to see. Guys were playing with great confidence in the second half.”

Since Dec. 6, a 117-105 loss at San Antonio, the Heat has been the fifth-best shooting team in the league (47.4 percent), the second-best three-point shooting team in the league (39.4 percent) and averaged 21.8 assists (14th) compared to 13.7 turnovers per game (16th) while ranking 10th in offensive rating (108.3).

Over the team’s first 23 games, the Heat shot 44.9 percent from the field (21st), 36.7 percent from three (13th) and averaged 21.1 assists (23rd) and 16.3 turnovers (26th) and ranked 27th in offensive rating (100.7).

“We’re just using each other – using each other’s skills to make each other better,” said Kelly Olynyk, who recorded his third double-double this season with a game-high 25 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. “For us, I think we’re making quicker decisions, moving the ball quicker and putting guys in positions where they can be successful.”

2. Goran Dragic has put together back-to-back games that look more Dragic-like. His ailing left elbow isn’t necessarily feeling any better, but the Heat’s starting point guard said after Wednesday night’s game he’s figured out a way to better deal with the discomfort caused by a strained ligament in the elbow.

After taking a tough tumble to the court late in a Dec. 16 win over the Clippers and missing three games, Dragic averaged 12.7 points and 4.3 assists while 31.1 percent shooting in his first three games back. He’s looked much better his last two games. He posted 25 points, four rebounds and eight assists in Saturday’s win in Orlando and then followed it up with 24 points, five rebounds and a season-high 13 assists against the Pistons.

This isn’t rocket science, but the Heat is usually better when Dragic, the team's only natural point guard, is distributing the ball as well as he did Wednesday. Miami is now 9-4 this season when he has at least six assists in a game.

“The ball is circling around,” Dragic said. “The guys are hitting shots. Without Dion now I have more responsibilities. The guys are helping. The big guys are setting good screens. The guys are knocking down shots for me.”

Dragic didn’t wear a protective sleeve on his arm Wednesday or tape. But given the opportunity going forward he says he will again.

“I had a burn from that machine they put on so that’s why they’re not taping that again,” he explained. “When it gets better I’m going to tape it again.”

Miami Heat Kelly Olynk looks to the basket around Detroit Pistons Luke Kennard in the first quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, January 3, 2018. Charles Trainor Jr. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

3. Olynyk continues to prove he’s a good fit for the Heat after all. Most of us questioned why the Heat would sign a 7-foot three-point shooter who was nothing more than a role player in Boston to a four-year, $50 million deal this summer. But the more Olynyk plays and plays well, the more we see why he fits into what Spoelstra wants and needs in his rotation.

Aside from his stats, which we mentioned above, it’s the heady plays that make him valuable.

With a minute to go in Wednesday’s win and the Heat clinging to a 107-104 lead, Olynyk tapped the ball out to Josh Richardson on a Dragic missed jumper and the Heat reset its offense and scored what turned out to be the clinching bucket moments later when Dragic hit Olynyk on a cut under the basket for a layup.

“Kelly’s a smart player,” Dragic said. “In some matchups he’s not going to over jump somebody but he’s going to use his body and tap out the ball like he did. We have a great connection with Kelly, especially when we play pick and roll, I know what he’s going to do. We’re talking, we’re building that chemistry that’s growing through every game better and better. As long as we talk and try to figure out things it’s much easier.”

Olynyk is shooting 44.6 percent from three-point range this season. Spoelstra said he wants him to be as aggressive as Wayne Ellington is shooting threes. “I’m serious,” Spoelstra said.

Miami Heat James Johnson gets blocked by Detroit Piston Boban Marjanovic in the first quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, January 3, 2018. Charles Trainor Jr. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

4. James Johnson had 16 points, four rebounds and finished plus 14 in 24 minutes worth of work in his first game back after missing six of the Heat’s previous seven games because of right ankle bursitis.

“He’s put in a lot of time,” Spoelstra said. “You can tell he’s not 100 percent with his timing and fluidity, but he brings us such another big layer of versatility on both ends of the court. We become a totally different basketball team when he’s out there. I loved getting him 23 minutes. He felt like he didn’t even get in a full workout so he’s actually working out right now again.

“But yeah, another day of treatment and rehab work hopefully we can get him even closer to what he was.”

Johnson said he only felt discomfort in the ankle when he wasn’t on the court playing.

“It's all mental,” Johnson said of dealing with the pain. “You can block that out. Your endorphins get to kicking, those little knicks and knacks you don’t even feel those. Really it’s when you stop and you have to go run into the check-in booth. That’s when you really feel it. But when you’re out there, you know the competitor comes out of you and all you want to do is your best.”

Miami Heat Hassan Whiteside dunks the ball in the first quarter as they play the Detroit Pistons at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, January 3, 2018. Charles Trainor Jr. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

5. Hassan Whiteside got into early foul trouble and was being outplayed by Pistons backup center Boban Marjanovic through three quarters, but made some big plays in the fourth quarter to redeem himself. The Pistons were without All-Star center Andre Drummond (right rib contusion) for the first time all season and played the bigger Marjanovic (7-3, 290 pounds) against the Heat.

Marjanovic finished with 15 point,s, nine rebounds, three assists and a block in 22 minutes – more production than Whiteside (10 points, four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in 17 minutes). But Spoelstra was happy with how his starting center closed the game.

“I was actually going to put him back in,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside, who exited with a little more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter. “He asked to come out. I thought that was his best stretch of basketball right there at the beginning of the fourth and that’s how hard we want him going and competing right from the get-go. He played about four or five minutes straight and he was exhausted but he was going that hard, emptied the tank. That has to become an absolute habit.

“He has that habit. He’s still getting into rhythm and getting into game speed of a real NBA game that’s different than practice. He’ll get that. the group that we had out there we left them out there, we were able to get a little bit of separation and the speed and quickness on both ends of the court was significant.”