Five takeaways: Heat return from All-Star break to dominate Hawks, continue winning ways

ATLANTA — The All-Star break spanned eight days for Miami. But it wasn’t long enough to mess with the Heat’s momentum.

The Heat (26-32) continued their winning ways with a dominant 108-90 victory over the Hawks on Friday at Philips Arena. Miami has now won 15 of its past 17 games dating back to Jan. 17.

The win began Miami’s post All-Star break push to the playoffs, as it began the night 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson (8) loses control of the ball as Atlanta Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney (5) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson (8) loses control of the ball as Atlanta Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney (5) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

“I have never been part of this kind of turnaround,” Goran Dragic said of the Heat, which reached the midway point of the season with the NBA’s second-worst record at 11-30. “To start the season so bad and basically everybody was counting us out, and then to win 13 in a row and come back, it’s fun.”

Miami showed its depth, using an 11-man rotation. Six Heat players finished with double-digit points led by Tyler Johnson’s 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting.

“You can see we have guys who can step up, that are going to have big nights,” Dragic said. “It’s not going to be the same guy. That’s all we care about — it’s about winning.”

Dragic chipped in 17 points, six rebounds and three assists.

Hassan Whiteside wasn’t as effective as usual with just two points on 1-of-9 shooting, but he still managed to grab 10 rebounds. Whiteside pointed out that Miami outscored Atlanta by 20 points when he was on the court despite the underwhelming box score numbers.

“That gets [Erik Spoelstra] more excited than the [20 point, 20 rebound] games,” Whiteside said. “You can tell they really scouted me in the paint. It was everybody in the paint.”

Atlanta (32-25) struggled without point guard Dennis Schroder, who missed the game due to a one-game suspension after failing to return to the team on time following the All-Star break. Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 21 points.

Here are our five takeaways from the game …

Heat still hot from three: Eight days off was not enough to mess up Miami’s hot touch from three. Over the 16 games leading into the All-Star break — the Heat recorded a 14-2 record during this stretch — Miami ranked second in the NBA with a 3-point shooting percentage of 40.1 percent. The Heat picked up right where they left off in their first game back from the break, making 17 of 37 shots from 3-point range Friday. Miami’s 17 made 3-pointers set a new season-high for most made 3-pointers in a game. Luke Babbitt led the charge with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from long range. Miami needed that type of performance from deep in Atlanta, as it made 37.1 percent of the rest of its shots.

“The ball was popping around to the open guy,” Dragic said. “Of course you’re going to have a good percentage when you have open shots.”

Dion Waiters finds other ways to contribute: It wasn’t the best shooting night for Waiters. The Heat guard finished with 14 points on 6-of-19 shooting. But Waiters was still effective, recording 10 assists. This is a big step for Waiters, who has built an NBA reputation as an inefficient volume scorer. But Waiters has proven this season he can affect games even when his shot is not going in, and he did it again Friday. The Heat outscored the Hawks by 30 points with Waiters on the court despite his inefficient performance.

“I think he could have had probably three or four or five more as he got in there,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Waiters’ 10 assists. “He’s a handful when he has some space and he’s committed to being aggressive. It’s tough to keep him out of the paint. He’s making better and better decisions as the season goes on.”

Suffocating Heat defense: Whether it was Miami’s tight defense or just rust from the long All-Star break, the Hawks struggled offensively. Atlanta shot 38 percent from the field. Through all of the wins and losses, strong defense has become a trademark for this season’s Heat team. Miami entered Friday’s game with the NBA’s sixth-best defense based on defensive rating.

Thanks for the assist: Miami believes its best offense is born out of ball movement. Without a dominant isolation player on the roster, the Heat depend on ball movement to create space and manipulate defenses. But in terms of assists per game, the Heat have been underwhelming so far this season. Miami entered the contest ranked 23rd in the NBA with 21.2 assists per game. Friday was a different story, though. The Heat racked up 30 assists on 40 made baskets. In fact, Miami’s first 13 made baskets came on assists. These are all impressive and encouraging numbers for Miami.

“The guys enjoyed the way the ball was moving,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody felt involved.”

Josh Richardson returns, rotation doesn’t change much: After missing the past 19 games with a sprained left foot, Richardson was available Friday. But that didn’t change Spoelstra’s rotation much. Spoelstra stuck with the rotation that helped Miami win 14 of 16 games entering the All-Star break. James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Willie Reed and Wayne Ellington were the first four players off the Heat’s bench. Richardson finally checked in with 6:30 remaining in the first half when Luke Babbitt picked up his third foul. Richardson finished with three assists, but he did not score as he missed all five of his shots in 13 minutes of playing time.

“I just like having him out there,” Spoelstra said of Richardson. “He’s available. He needs some of these minutes to be able to get in a rhythm.”

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