Behind the numbers: Heat playing like one of top teams in NBA over past 20 games

Josh Richardson #0 of the Miami Heat passes the ball around Bobby Portis #5 of the Chicago Bulls to teammate Bam Adebayo #13 at the United Center on January 15, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

MIAMI — Somehow, some way, the Heat own the eighth-best record in the NBA at 26-18. Here are five tidbits of information from the first 44 games of the season …

* Since Dec. 9, the Heat have posted a 15-5 record. Miami has recorded the 13th-best offensive rating (scoring 106.9 points per 100 possessions) and the sixth-best defensive rating (allowing 103.7 points per 100 possessions) during this 20-game stretch. Based on these two numbers, the Heat have recorded the sixth-best net rating (OR-DR) at 3.2 during this span behind the Timberwolves (net rating of 8.4), Warriors (7.8), Raptors (6.5), Clippers (4.7) and Thunder (4.2). The Raptors are the only Eastern Conference team ahead of the Heat on this list, and Miami defeated Toronto 90-89 on Jan. 9.

* The Heat are limiting opponents to 58.7 percent shooting from within six feet of the basket this season, which is tied for fourth-best in the league. As one would expect, center Hassan Whiteside is playing a big role in Miami’s success in this area. Players defended by Whiteside are shooting 51.3 percent from within six feet of the basket (11.4 percent worse than their combined average shooting percentage). Unsurprisingly, that makes Whiteside an elite rim protector. He ranks second among starting centers with that 11.4 percentage points difference behind only Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

* Miami’s Josh Richardson and Goran Dragic have been two of the league’s top players 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. Richardson leads the NBA in plus-minus in clutch games, as the Heat have outscored opponents by 69 points with him on the court in these situations. Dragic ranks second at plus-60. Cleveland’s Dwyane Wade and Kevin Love are tied for third on this list at plus-56. So it’s not a surprise that Richardson has played 91 and Dragic has played 85 of the 95 total clutch minutes the Heat have been a part of this season.

* The Heat are using the handoff on 10.2 percent of their offensive plays, which is the second-most in the NBA. That’s up from last season, when Miami used it 5.7 percent of the time. The Pistons are the only team using the handoff more this season (12.5 percent of their offensive plays). After these two teams, there’s a big gap. The Nuggets rank third, with 6.5 percent of their offensive plays including a handoff. But among the three teams using it most, Miami has been the most effective. The Heat are scoring 0.94 points per possession including a handoff, ahead of the Pistons (0.78) and Nuggets (0.90).

* Heat point guard Goran Dragic is averaging 21.1 points on 46.0 percent shooting to go with 5.0 rebounds and 6.9 assists over the past nine games. Dragic is one of eight players who has averaged 20 or more points, five or more rebounds and six or more assists over their past nine games. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Tyreke Evans and Chris Paul are the other players on the list.

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