*All stats prior to Cleveland game 12/28
The Miami Heat have parked the tanks, at least for the moment.
Miami has won six of seven, with the lone loss a hard fought one against Toronto Wednesday night. The youth movement is serving this team well, and the emergence of “Point Justise” has changed the dynamic of this entire team.
The energy of youth can help bring an inspired effort night in and night out. Where Miami struggled early in the season was on the defensive end. The Heat went 4-11 during a roughly one month stretch from October 29th to November 27th, in those 11 losses they gave up an average of over 116 points per game. However in those four wins the points-per-game allowed dropped to 101.5.
A similar trend has emerged in the 13 games since November 30th, the Heat are 9-4 over that span. Points allowed per game: 96.3. This defensive renaissance has Miami eighth in defensive ranking per NBA.com.
Miami is sending back shots left and right, Hassan Whiteside ranks third in the NBA with 2.6 blocks per game, and Miami’s 6.1 rejections per contest also ranks third league wide.
Good thing because the other side of that coin, the offense, is a work in progress. Luckily there are some factors that are balancing things out.
Picking Each Other up
Despite this improved play there are still real concerns with the Heat offense. Miami ranks dead last in overall shooting just 43.4% from the field. This figure is a bit misleading as Miami is actually a top-ten group in terms of three-point percentage at 35.9%. Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow, and Rodney McGruder all average over 39%.
One aspect of their game which offsets the poor overall shooting is the Heat are a prolific offensive rebounding group. Whiteside pulls in four offensive boards himself and the 12.3 per game overall is second in the NBA to only Orlando (13).
No Charity, However
Miami ranks second-to-last from the free throw line at just 69.5%, only the Lakers are worse. If the Heat can bring this number up even a couple percentage points, that could mean an extra victory or two down the stretch. Dwyane Wade is shooting just 70.6% from the stripe, six percentage points below his career average. Miami has three players shooting at least 80% from the foul line, expect a bit of a return to the mean as the season rolls on.
Sharing and Caring
The Heat rank in the bottom third of the NBA in both assists and turnovers per game. However over their last ten games they are turning it over almost two fewer times per game. Those extra possessions are helping. Miami is also averaging almost three more assists per game over that same span.
It seems the formula for success is to let the defense become the foundation again. Take care of the ball. Keep the spacing and allow the offense to grow with Winslow at the helm. His size at the point guard position is unique and gives Spo more flexibility. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson, along with Bam Adebayo are gaining confidence.
Starting with Cleveland on Friday, the Heat have six of their next eight games at home. We could be talking about an emerging contender when the new year rolls around.
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