While Heat’s offense continues to improve, their defense has not been up to team’s standards

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) dunks the ball in front of Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21), Josh Richardson (0) and guard Goran Dragic (7) as Magic guard Elfrid Payton (2) watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

MIAMI — While the Heat’s offense has been moving in the right direction recently, their defense has been moving in the wrong direction.

Entering Friday’s game against the Knicks, the Heat rank 13th out of 30 teams in defensive rating (allowing 105.1 points per 100 possessions) this season. Miami finished last season ranked fifth in this category.

And as the offense has improved, the defense has taken a step back.

Since Dec. 6, the Heat have been the sixth-best shooting team in the league (47.4 percent) and second-best 3-point shooting team in the league (39.4 percent). That’s a big improvement from the first 23 games of the season, when Miami ranked 22nd in shooting percentage (44.6) and 17th in 3-point shooting percentage (35.9).

But during this month-long stretch, the Heat rank 16th in defensive rating (allowing 105.9 points per 100 possessions) behind teams like the Nets, Timberwolves and Nuggets.

“We just have to get back to our habits, drill and understand how quickly it can go,” coach Erik Spoelstra said in advance of Friday’s game against the Knicks. “That’s probably challenging when you have one side of the ball going well and you lose focus on the other end. Not from a competitive standpoint, but more in the detail, discipline, focus. … But we’re getting there.”

The Heat have been winning recently despite their defensive lapses, with a 9-5 record since Dec. 6. But defense still plays a big part in Miami’s success (or lack thereof), as it is 13-3 this season when it holds opponents to less than 100 points and 11-2 when it holds opponents below 42 percent shooting from the field.

“Holding teams under 100, that’s always our goal,” Heat forward James Johnson said. “We got to have a couple of quarters where we’re holding them under 20 points. We’re capable of it and coach expects it.”

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