Miami has been outscoring opponents by the widest margin in the league in fourth quarters; their defense has locked down and they're hitting teams where it hurts. They'll look to keep their hot streak going versus the playoff contending Atlanta Hawks.
The Miami Heat are on a terrific tear. Game after game, they’ve defeated titans, like Golden State and Houston, and fended off bottom dwellers. The players behind it? Human flamethrower Dion Waiters, career year-edition Goran Dragic, and a slew of next men up and bench players.
Through the streak, Miami’s rejuvenated defense has allowed the second-fewest opponent points per game, at 98.8, per NBA.com/Stats. Due to breakneck close-outs and an increasingly punctual defensive scheme, Miami has been hitting teams where it hurts.
The boon of basketball is the catch-and-shoot field goal — a good look at the rim and a license to let it fly in a singular rhythm. It turns out that most of these hyper-valuable catch-and-shoot looks are one of basketball’s favorites shots: the 3-pointer. For Miami, it has accounted for about 81-percent of their opponents’ catch-and-shoot attempts in the last eight games (17.9 of 22 catch-and-shoot field goal attempts), according to NBA.com. And of those 17.9 attempted catch-and-shoot 3s, teams are converting at league-low 30.4-percent clip versus Miami. That’s means, in the last eight games, Miami is allowing less than a point (.912) per catch-and-shoot 3.
Now, that could be luck, for there are some reports that indicate that opponent 3-point percentage is fairly random and that limiting actual attempts is usually more indicative of a good 3-point defense. The best way to deal with a mess is to not have one in the first place. Regardless, the odds are have been in Miami’s favor recently.
For reference, Miami’s opponents are shooting better on pull up 3s (33.3-percent) than on those of the catch-and-shoot variety(!). That’s like if someone were better at hitting a moving target than one standing still — or, more aptly, like turning an opponent’s strength into an unlikely weakness.
Guys like James Johnson and Okaro White have played meaningful minutes in this improbable run, but Miami’s highest paid player (not counting Chris Bosh), Hassan Whiteside, has been far from this win streak's fulcrum. Whiteside has played in six of the last eight games, but he’s been an afterthought in Miami’s final stanzas.
Dragic (89 minutes), Ellington (82 min), Johnson (76 min), Waiters (50 min), Willie Reed (49 min) and White (47 min) — those are all of the players that have played more fourth quarter minutes than Whiteside (43 min) on this eight-game onslaught. In fact, the only players that have registered fewer minutes than Whiteside have played three, or less, of the last eight games; and those players include Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, and Luke Babbitt.
Some of the Whiteside’s lackluster contribution can be accredited to a sprained ankle he suffered a few games ago, which he tried to play through, only making things worse.
It seemed implausible that a team centered around such an impactful big man would succeed despite not having him much in the fourth quarter. That said, the final quarter has been where Miami has been eating.
Throughout the first three quarters, Miami’s point differential looks like this: first quarter: plus-1.8; second quarter: minus-2.3; third quarter: plus-1.8. But in the fourth quarter, the Miami Heat are posting a league-leading plus-6.4 point differential, according to NBA.com. And the team trailing Miami’s fourth quarter point differential, the Golden State Warriors (which Miami has defeated on this streak), is at plus-3.4 — a leap and a bound away from first.
One of the more peculiar things that Miami has been doing during this run is slowing down the game. The Heat are bottom-eight in pace. And it’s not just that; they also handle the ball more than any other team, averaging a league-high 2.66 dribbles per possession, per NBA.com. They love to chew clock, running dribble handoffs and switching the ball-handler on the pick-and-roll until they find a fissure in the defense.
Miami’s hot streak is surely due for a regression to the mean, but, until then, they will keep enjoying the NBA’s longest active win streak (9).