MIAMI — Wins have been hard to come by for the Heat this season. But this week, they have come in bunches.
The Heat (14-30) continued their winning ways with a 109-97 victory over the Bucks (20-23) on Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena. It marked Miami’s third consecutive win.
“Guys are playing better,” Heat center Hassan Whiteside said. “I don’t know what really got into guys, but I like it. We’re playing better, man.”
Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters led the way. Miami’s starting backcourt combined for 58 points on 20-of-32 shooting.
Whiteside chipped in 16 points and 15 rebounds for his 28th double-double of the season.
Here are our five takeaways from the game …
1. The winning formula: What exactly is that formula? A combination of playing at home and improved team health. But to give the Heat credit, they are playing better. With Saturday’s win over the Bucks, Miami’s four-game homestand is off to a 3-0 start. This three-game winning streak is the Heat’s longest of the season. This winning streak comes immediately after a 15-game stretch that included 13 losses. Getting a fourth consecutive win won’t be easy, though. The Heat close the homestand Monday against the Golden State Warriors (37-6).
2. Dion Waiters steps in, steps up: With guard Tyler Johnson out due to a strained left shoulder, starting shooting guard Dion Waiters saw time at point guard Saturday against the Bucks. When starting point guard Goran Dragic exited the game, Waiters ran the offense. Johnson is usually Dragic’s backup at the position. But Waiters was a serviceable replacement Saturday, tying a career-high with 33 points to go with three rebounds and three assists. With Josh Richardson (sprained left foot) also out, the Heat’s options at point guard are dwindling. Aside from Dragic and Waiters, the only healthy guards on Miami’s roster are Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder. In times like this, it helps to have forward James Johnson on the court. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward is an above average passer for his size and position. James finished with six assists Saturday.
“I just try to play every game like it’s my last,” Waiters said. “Tonight, coaches told me to be aggressive. Be me. Do what I do best, get to the rack and make plays for my teammates. I was able to do that.”
3. Goran Dragic is the best player on the Heat’s roster: He’s playing like it right now. Goran Dragic followed up Thursday’s 32-point performance with another standout stat line Saturday. Miami’s 30-year-old point guard finished with 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting and six assists. Dragic is averaging 21.9 points on 52.6 percent shooting over his past nine games. With Dragic’s name popping up in trade rumors since the start of the season, he’s either increasing his trade value or making a strong case to stay in Miami.
“Goran has had a career-high year,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is not just something that’s happening right now. I think maybe this is just you guys are paying attention right now. He’s been doing this all season. ”
4. Defending Giannis: It wasn’t easy, but the Heat managed to contain Giannis Antetokounmpo. Miami threw multiple looks at the 6-foot-11, 222-pound Antetokounmpo. The 6-foot-5 Rodney McGruder, the 6-foot-4 Dion Waiters, and the 6-foot-8 Okaro White all took turns defending Antetokounmpo. In the end, they didn’t completely shut him down. But they held him to his season averages, as Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. He entered Saturday’s game averaging 23.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists for the season.
5. Where is Derrick Williams?: One word to describe Derrick Williams’ role with the Heat this season is sporadic. The former No. 2 overall pick hasn’t earned a consistent role yet, as he’s played in 23 of Miami’s 44 games this season with only one game missed due to injury. And lately Williams’ playing time hasn’t just been inconsistent, it’s been nonexistent. Williams did not play Saturday against the Bucks, and has not played in a game since logging seven minutes of action in the Heat’s loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Jan. 13. He has watched ### three consecutive games from the bench. Even forward Okaro White, who the Heat signed to a 10-day contract on Tuesday, has played ahead of Williams in Miami’s rotation this week. This is not the role Williams envisioned when he signed a one-year, $4.6 million contract with the Heat as a free agent this past summer. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season.