MIAMI — Before Dwyane Wade was traded to Miami on Feb. 8, the Heat’s offense was one of the worst and slowest in the NBA.
Miami ranked 24th out of 30 teams in offensive rating with 103.1 points per 100 possessions over the first 55 games of the season before Wade arrived. But over the past 11 games with the future Hall of Famer on the roster, the Heat have posted the eighth-best offensive rating with 111.3 points per 100 possessions.
What’s been the difference? Wade’s presence has helped, but players in the Heat locker room point to a faster pace as the biggest reason for the sudden improvement.
The Heat are averaging 100.43 possessions per 48 minutes over this recent 11-game offensive surge, which is the 13th-fastest pace during that time. Compare that to the first 55 games when Miami was playing at the third-slowest pace in the league with 96.86 possessions per 48 minutes, and this is a pretty drastic style change.
“Our pace is faster,” point guard Goran Dragic said when asked to dissect the Heat’s offensive improvement. “It sounds kind of strange because D-Wade, he likes to play a little bit slower. But especially the first unit, we have a lot of pitch aheads. As soon as you get the ball, try to pitch ahead. The pace is a little bit faster. We’ve got maybe more possessions because of that. Of course, our execution is way better so that counts, too. But we like it.”
The Heat now take their surging offense and a two-game winning streak on the road for a three-game trip that begins Monday against the Trail Blazers. Portland is on a nine-game winning streak and is third in the Western Conference, while the Heat have dropped seven consecutive road games and could be without starting center Hassan Whiteside (strained left hip flexor) and Wade (strained left hamstring).
But if Miami can continue to pair an improved offense with its already strong defense, it can keep any game close regardless of the opponent.
The Heat have posted the seventh-best net rating — one of the most reliable team performance measures — over the past 11 games. Miami recorded a net rating (difference between a team’s offensive and defensive ratings) of 6.9 during this stretch behind only the Rockets, Trail Blazers, Raptors, Warriors, Celtics and Jazz.
“I definitely feel that since I’ve been back, once everything comes back and once you have all the ingredients together, it’s a good mix,” Wade said. “I think we just have a great mix here. It’s like Justise [Winslow] playing better the last few games giving the offense a spark. So many guys that can come in and give you more and then you have me that brings attention to the defense that they didn’t have before and all these different things. So it’s a lot of different elements for sure.”
One element is the extra shot attempts a faster pace creates. Miami is averaging 89.3 shots over the past 11 games compared to 84.1 for the season.
Just those additional five shots can make a big difference for a Heat team that’s played a lot of opponents close. Miami has been a part of an NBA-high 45 clutch games this season, which is defined as a game that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter.
“I think that when you combine those two, that offense is clicking like it is and our defense, then probably we should win a lot of games not with one or two-point margins. But by more,” Dragic said.
And the Heat have been doing just that, earning three wins by 20 points or more in just the past two weeks.
Coach Erik Spoelstra said the Heat played at a “terrific pace” in Saturday 129-102 win over the Wizards. Miami scored a season-highs in points and paint points in the victory.
“I love the pace of how fast we were getting it up and advancing the ball into attacking positions,” Spoelstra said. “That’s something, I think, with our speed and our depth now that we’re healthy, I think we can explore that even more.”
With 15 games remaining in the regular season, it looks like the Heat have found an offensive wrinkle that works for them.
“I think we’re just getting out and attacking more and not trying to play so much slowing it down every possession,” small forward Josh Richardson said. “We’re still not going to be the fastest pace in the league, but getting a few kick aheads has been getting us relief buckets. It’s been good for us.”