Heat Check

Heat has chance to catch Pacers, Wizards, but treacherous three-game set awaits

Miami Heat Kelly Olynyk passes the ball to Justise Winslow in the second quarter New York Knicks at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, March 21, 2018.
Miami Heat Kelly Olynyk passes the ball to Justise Winslow in the second quarter New York Knicks at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, March 21, 2018. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 119-98 victory over the New York Knicks at AmericanAirlines Arena:

1. The Heat won for the sixth time in a row at home and lit up the scoreboard yet again as its offense begins to prove it can consistently be relied upon.

Two seemingly large problems for Miami the first half of the season have begun to be put in the rear-view mirror over the last six weeks. Before the Heat traded for Dwyane Wade and then beat the Bucks at home on Feb. 9, Miami was 13-12 at AmericanAirlines Arena and averaging 103.1 points per 100 possessions (24th in the league) for the season.

Since then, the Heat owns the second-best home record in the league at 9-1 (only the Rockets 7-0 are better) and the ninth-ranked scoring offense in the league (110.4) per 100 possessions. Miami has improved its shooting percentage to 46.8 percent from the field (from 45.3 percent, 20th), 3-point shooting percentage to 38 percent (from 35.7, 21st) and picked up its pace, improving to 16th in the league (99.56) from 28th (96.86).

Miami is also turning the ball over less over its last 14 games (12.4%, sixth in NBA) than it did before the trade deadline (15.3 percent, 25th).

“I think guys are just feeding off each other. Guys are really enjoying when other people are playing well and it’s kind of like a contagious thing out there,” Kelly Olynyk said of the reason’s for the Heat’s improvement on offense. “You can see the ball is really moving. It doesn’t get stuck a lot. Guys aren’t forcing anything. Guys are turning down good shots for great shots. And we’re getting out on the break more. I think being out on the West Coast a little bit and playing some of those teams and seeing how tough it is when teams get up the floor real quick I think we've kind of picked up our pace a little. We used to play a little bit slower. I think that’s helping us as well.”

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic looks to the basket as New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. guards him in the first quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, March 21, 2018. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

2. The seventh-seeded Heat (39-33) picked up ground on fifth-seeded Indiana (41-31), sixth-seeded Washington (40-31) and extended its lead to 1 1/2 games over Milwaukee (37-34).

The Pacers, Wizards and Bucks all lost Wednesday in their games against winning teams while Miami blew by an inferior opponent. While Philadelphia (40-30) owns the easiest remaining schedule of the bottom six playoff seeds in the East and now sits in fourth place, the Heat own the second-easiest schedule and the door remains open to passing both the Pacers (seven games remaining against playoff contenders) and Wizards.

But the immediate road ahead for the Heat is treacherous. Miami plays at fourth-seeded Oklahoma City (43-30) on Friday, at Indiana on Sunday and then home against third-seeded Cleveland (42-29) next Tuesday. The Heat is 0-10 against the top six seeds in the West and had lost nine in a row on the road before beating the Lakers in its last road game 92-91 last Friday.

“It’s going to be a tough road trip,” Goran Dragic said. “Those teams are playing well, they’re going to be in the playoffs. We need to take care of our business. At least we always play good against good teams. We bring that effort and it’s going to be a great challenge for us especially on the road. I think we’re ready. We can beat anybody as long as we’re focused.”

Miami Heat forward Kelly Olynyk leaps for a baket as New York Knicks forward Isaiah Hicks fails to defend in the second quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, March 21, 2018. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

3. Kelly Olynyk remains red-hot and his plus-32 performance tied Tyler Johnson (at Orlando Dec. 26) as the best by a Heat player this season.

The 7-foot Canadian recorded his seventh double-double this season with a team-high 22 points and a career-high 10 assists and became only the second 7-footer to record a points-assists double-double in franchise history joining Shaquille O’Neal (15 points, 10 assists vs. Toronto on April 11, 2006). The points-assists double-double has been done by 7-footers only four other times this season in the league (Marc Gasol twice and once each by Pau Gasol and Nikola Vucevic).

Olynyk is averaging 20.5 points and has made 11 threes over his last four games. He leads the Heat in collective plus/minus for the season at 228 and ranks 46th overall in plus/minus in the league.

“Their bench is what really destroyed us,” said Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, whose bench was outscored 62-28. “I thought that with our starting group we were right there. [Olynyk] has all the little tricks where he can pitch it early and lean into you so you are forced to run a little bit different.

“He’s just a smart player and he led that bench group and we couldn’t get after it, which really turned the game.”

4. Ellington became only the third player in franchise history to reach 200 three-pointers made in a single season.

With his four three-pointers on Wednesday, the “Man with the Golden Arm” moved to within two (201) of Tim Hardaway for the second-most three-pointers made in a single season by a Heat player (203 in 1996-97). Damon Jones made a team-record 225 threes in just 66 games in the 2004-05 season.

Wednesday’s performance was the 26th game this season Ellington has made at least four threes in a game.

“It’s been fun. It’s been enjoyabl,” Ellington said. “Just to have the freedom to shoot the shots that I’ve been shooting this year, and to have coach behind me telling me to fire away. Any shooter, that’s all you ask for.”

The Heat made 15 threes on Wednesday and now has 805 for the season. Miami set the franchise-record last season with 808 made three-pointers.

“I don’t think there’s a ceiling,” Ellington said. “It’s been interesting, though. It’s been fun to see where the league is going and how the league is evolving and where it’s headed. I’m ecstatic that it’s headed that way. It’s fun basketball. But at the same time, you can’t forget about that interior presence. It’s the game of basketball, everybody wants to shoot threes. But you can’t forget about that presence in the paint.”

New York Knicks forward Michael Beasley shoots as they play the Miami Heat at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, March 21, 2018. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

5. Michael Beasley can still score.

The player chosen highest in the draft in Heat history (2nd overall in 2008) made nine of his first 11 shots and had 20 points by halftime for the Knicks. The Heat held Beasley to only two points in the second half on 1 of 4 shooting and he finished with 22 for the game.

“It felt like he was going to go for 50,” Spoelstra said. “When he gets it going like that, those are highly contested mid-range shots. You don’t know how difficult those shots are to make. You know, that’s the one thing I’ve always marveled about Mike, is his touch. And to come out of pirouettes and spins and that ball will float out of his hand like it’s an egg. It’s really an incredible gift that he has, his big hands with great touch, can do it with either hand around the basket. And you can’t get to him when he’s like that. In that regard, from where he operates, it’s similar to Carmelo Anthony, and it’s tough trying to double or help [defensively]. So after he got probably 14, 16 right in his wheelhouse, then we started to make his catches tougher and get him out a little further out and you can see certainly what he’s capable of.”