Tyler Johnson on Heat: ‘This isn’t just a string of good games, this is actually a good basketball team’

The Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic, left, greets Tyler Johnson after his 3-pointer against the Charlotte Hornets in the fourth quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. The Heat won, 108-101. (Pedro Portal/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)

INDIANAPOLIS — With 15 regular-season games remaining, the Heat are just one game out of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.

The Heat aren’t surprised they find themselves in the middle of the playoff race this late in the season. Ask Miami’s players and they will tell you this is what they expected … even at 11-30.

“It’s not really a surprise to us,” Heat guard Tyler Johnson said. “It was a surprise that we were sitting at 11-30. Obviously, we didn’t know how good of a team we could be until we started playing the way we have. But coming out of training camp, we thought we were going to have a really good team.”

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The Heat’s 11-30 start was more surprising than their current 21-5 run since that low point?

“I agree with him 100 percent,” Wayne Ellington said when told of Johnson’s comment. “We had a great training camp, a great preseason and then we come into the season and it’s not really going the way we thought it would. But we knew the type of team we were capable of being. We didn’t realize it would take that much time to figure it out and start playing the way we knew that we were capable of.

“But this is the NBA. There were a lot of new faces, we were injury plagued, but we never made an excuse. I think that was the key. We never made an excuse, we continued to fight all season long and here we are.”

Here the Heat are. With the playoffs within reach and four weeks remaining in the regular season, Miami (32-35) begins a critical five-game homestand on Wednesday with a game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Based on the way the Heat have been playing recently, the homestand should go well for Miami with four of the five opponents during this stretch carrying losing records (Pelicans, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers and Suns).

Since Jan. 17 – the day Miami’s current 21-5 stretch began – the Heat have been one of the NBA’s best teams. During this period, the Heat rank second in the NBA with a net rating (difference between a team’s offensive and defensive ratings) of 8.3 sandwiched between the first-place Warriors and the third-place Spurs.

“For sure,” Johnson said when asked if he believes the Heat can sustain this ‘Golden State and San Antonio’ level of play. “I think people still don’t believe it. We’re still under the radar because of how we started. But we understand that we still have more levels to go. All this is still new to us. So once we start getting more and more comfortable, I think we can become an even more dangerous team.”

One can point to the Heat’s league-best 3-point shooting or elite defense as the reason for their unexpected turnaround. But coach Erik Spoelstra insists it isn’t just one single thing that’s pushing the Heat in the right direction.

“Everybody wants that defining moment and I think that’s what’s special about this team,” Spoelstra said. “It was, it has been and it will have to continue be a methodical incremental improvement in a microwave society. People don’t want to hear that, but this group has been very consistent even when we were losing to approach every day to try to get better, and that hasn’t changed since the success rate has changed a couple months ago.”

Miami’s under-the-radar status hasn’t changed either. More local attention is coming the Heat’s way, but the national attention hasn’t caught up yet.

Two of the Heat’s scheduled nationally televised games during this winning stretch were removed from the national television schedule. And Miami currently doesn’t have any nationally televised games remaining on its regular-season schedule.

“Probably when we’re in the playoffs making some noise,” Johnson said when asked when people will start believing in the Heat. “You can tell that this isn’t just a string of good games, this is actually a good basketball team.”

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