MIAMI – The Heat were pulling away from the Bucks late Thursday and the players were feeling the energy from an arena was as loud as it has been all season.
The pace was starting to pick up, almost frenetic, when Dion Waiters held onto the ball beyond the top of the circle, held out his hand and told everyone to calm down.
Dion Waiters, the voice of reason?
Waiters says coach Erik Spoelstra is giving him freedoms he’s never been afforded during his previous four years (Cleveland, OKC) in the league. And he appreciates the responsibility.
“I’m very comfortable,” Waiters said. “Coach is allowing me to be myself and take on that leadership role. He’s really letting me embrace it and I’m embracing it, just being able to tell guys to calm down. He’s really letting me lead the way. I really never had that.
“I’m in a great situation and I’m enjoying it.”
Spoelstra sees that role expanding as the 6-foot-4 Waiters gets even more comfortable.
“What we talk about all the time, leadership at all levels,” Spoelstra said. “The way the team is built, it is going to be different guys at different times. We want guys to hold each other accountable or speak to them in a way that gets them focused on the possession.
“Dion has been very pure about his approach to do things to help the team win. That’s in preparation, that’s in pre-practice, that’s after practice. He is putting in a lot of time to take responsibility for his play to help the group.”
Waiters was one of the best players on the court during Miami’s 96-73 victory Thursday, posting 23 points and playing solid defense, especially against the Bucks’ 6-11 rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Waiters remains a volume shooter (he was 10 of 22) but he continues to take the ball to the rim and he finally got some calls.
“It felt great just to step on there, look at it a little bit, I haven’t been there in a while,” said Waiters, who did not attempt a free throw the previous two games despite taking 44 shots, 22 within three feet of the rim. “I just try to be aggressive and I got to the line a little bit.
“I got to continue to keep attacking and continue to put pressure on the defense.”
Goran Dragic, the most experienced of the Heat’s rotation players, saw that leadership Thursday as some players started to get a bit amped up.
“Me and Dion were saying ‘Calm down, calm down,’” Dragic said. “(James Johnson) and (Hassan Whiteside) they were, I would say, distracted. We had a lead of 12, 13 points, I said ‘They want us to get mad or to explode so just calm down and finish the game.’
“Everybody reacted calmly and finished the game.”