Without a go-to superstar, Heat have used different approach to become one of NBA’s top teams in the clutch

Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) defends as Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington (2) picks up the ball from center Bam Adebayo (13) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. The Heat defeated the Pacers 114-106. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

MIAMI — What’s the biggest difference between this season and last season for the Heat?

The Heat have reached the midway point of the season at 24-17, on pace to finish with a 48-34 record. That’s a pretty big jump from last year’s 11-30 start and 41-41 finish.

One of the biggest reasons for that improvement: The Heat are winning a lot of close games.

Miami has been one of the top teams in clutch situations — defined by the NBA as a game that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. The Heat entered Friday with the league’s third-best record in clutch games at 18-7, behind only the Boston Celtics (20-7) and San Antonio Spurs (13-5).

Miami finished with a 21-23 in clutch games last season.

This recent success in close games has played a big part in the Heat’s current six-game winning streak, with each of the six victories coming by single-digits. Miami’s average margin of victory during the streak is 4.5 points.

“We just have trust in one another,” guard Tyler Johnson said. “We’ve been in so many close games these last two years. It’s funny because we don’t want to bring up last year, but there were so many times last year when we were looking around to see who is going to make the play. We understand it’s by committee. It could be J-Rich [Josh Richardson] one night. Then Wayne [Ellington] comes back the next night and hits a big shot. We understand it’s by committee. That’s our biggest thing down the stretch, we’re not relying on one guy. Everybody is a threat. Everybody is an option. So everybody is ready.”

The Heat rank No. 2 in shooting percentage in the clutch (52.1 percent), No. 1 in 3-point shooting percentage in the clutch (45.8 percent), No. 2 in opponent shooting percentage in the clutch (34.4 percent) and No. 1 in opponent 3-point shooting percentage in the clutch (20.0 percent) this season.

Josh Richardson has been an important piece to the Heat’s late-game puzzle, as he has played a team-high 85 minutes and posted a team-best plus-minus of plus-64 in clutch situations.

But along with Richardson (12-of-21 shooting in the clutch, 57.1 percent), Goran Dragic (15-of-34, 44.1 percent), Hassan Whiteside (8-of-13, 61.5 percent), Wayne Ellington (6-of-10, 60.0 percent), James Johnson (4-of-15, 26.7 percent), Kelly Olynyk (8-of-10, 80.0 percent), Bam Adebayo (3-of-6, 50.0 percent) and Tyler Johnson (2-of-2, 100.0 percent) have all had opportunities to produce in late-game situations.

“Spo plays his lineups late in games based off who is producing that night,” Tyler Johnson said. “It’s not based off favoritism. It’s not based off contracts. It’s not based off anything like that.

“Down the stretch, everybody feels like they’re an option. Everybody feels like they’re ready to produce if the ball comes to them. That’s a great feeling to have. You always have to be ready because at any moment it can be your moment.”

And even though guard Dion Waiters — who has made 18-of-35 shots in clutch situations this season — has been out since suffering a sprained left ankle on Dec. 22, the Heat have still found a way to win close games without him. Miami is 10-1 in clutch games that Waiters hasn’t played in this season.

“We’ve continued to make sure we’re aggressive on the offensive end, continue to play together,” Ellington said. “We don’t get frantic and start taking bad shots, out of character shots. We’re working together, we’re playing together. And on defense, man, we’re coming together and we’re digging in. We understand what’s on the line, we understand we need to get stops. We’re capable of that and we’re getting it done.”

[Living the simple life: Heat’s Kelly Olynyk chillin’ off the court, ballin’ on the court]

[Midseason Heat report: Josh Richardson emerging, Bam Adebayo’s future looks bright]

[With Dion Waiters’ season likely over, what starting lineup will Heat coach Erik Spoelstra settle on?]

[Want more Heat news sent directly to your Facebook feed? Make sure to like our Heat Facebook page]