ATLANTA – Securing a spot in the playoffs means the Heat will play the final week of the regular season with one-eye on the postseason.
The Heat were without Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and James Johnson for their 115-86 victory over the Hawks Wednesday at Phillips Arena. All three players are nursing injuries, none of which are serious but bothersome enough to give them at least a couple of days off with the postseason 10 days away.
But it did not matter as the Heat shook off an early eight point deficit with a 17-2 run and never trailed in the second half in their widest margin of victory of the season, topping the 27-point win over Washington last month.
“Our guys really want to work our game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And regardless of who we had in or who was out, the guys that didn’t have a chance to play every single game really wanted to prove themselves and prove that they can hold their own within our game and there wouldn’t be a different, whether those guys were out there or whether Goran, Dwyane and JJ were out there, and that’ what you want.”
The Heat (43-36) have three games remaining and continue to hold onto the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, one-half game ahead of Washington and Milwaukee. Miami also has clinched all two-way and the three-way tiebreakers over the Wizards and Bucks.
Wade (right elbow, left wrist), Dragic (left knee, left ankle) and Johnson (left ankle) would have played had this been a meaningful game. But with the playoffs starting next weekend, the Heat will not hesitate to sit any player who feels he needs time to heal. All three are looking forward to a couple of days rest and although all said they expect to play Friday in New York. But if any of them needs more time they will sit out that game, too.
Kelly Olynyk and Josh Richardson led the Heat with 19 points each. Olynyk was 5 of 7 on 3 pointers. Justise Winslow had a season high 18 points. His 16 field goal attempts also are a season high. He made six.
The Hawks shot 36.7 percent.
Here are our five takeaways:
No Dragic, no Wade, no JJ … no problem: At least against the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Unlike the previous night when the Heat needed an 11-0 run to end the game and escape with a 101-98 victory over the Hawks in Miami, Wednesday was much different in Atlanta. The Heat got solid contributions from Olynyk, Richardson, Winslow, Rodney McGruder (14 points), Wayne Ellington (11 points) and Hassan Whiteside, who finished with just four points but dominated the middle with 13 rebounds and three blocks.
“Different guys stepped up in different moments,” Winslow said. “KO was huge for us in the first half and multiple guys in the second. It’s nice that the game wasn’t close like last night and we got the win.”
All ties go to the Heat: Miami has clinched all tiebreakers with Milwaukee and Washington. The Heat have the tiebreaker with Milwaukee because of their 3-0 record in the season series and Miami now has secured the two-way tiebreaker with the Wizards. Because the Heat and Wizards split their four-game season series, the next tie-breaker is each’s record within the Southeast Division. Miami now has 11 division wins and most Washington can get to is 10. By winning the Southeast Division, the Heat also clinch finished ahead of Washington and Milwaukee in a three-way tie.
Feeling like a million bucks … on and off the court: Kelly Olynyk needed to play just two minutes to reach his $1 million bonus and that came in the first quarter. So, how did Olynyk celebrate? By making five consecutive 3-point shots in the second quarter to key a 17-2 Heat run.
“It felt good,” Olynyk said about his shooting. “I was kind of in the zone. It felt like whatever I threw up was going to go in.”
Olynyk’s bonus kicked in if he played 1,700 minutes this season. He entered Tuesday’s game with 1,698 minutes, which already exceeded his career high of 1,538 minutes in 2016-17 while with the Celtics. Olynyk signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Heat in July. He will earn $11.6 million this season.
“It’s a big night for him,” Spoelstra said. “But dinner, drinks, all of that is on him when we get to New York. I’m going to see if I can get ticket to a play, bill his account.”
Record setting season: Ellington’s third three, which came early in the forth quarter, established an NBA record for 3-pointers off the bench with 207, breaking Eric Gordon’s mark of 206 set last season with the Rockets. Ellington now is honing in the Heat record for threes in a season. With 216 threes overall, he is 10 shy of breaking Damon Jones’ team record of 225 set in the 2004-05 season. Ellington said he knew nothing about the record.
“I had no idea,” he said. “That’s a great accomplishment to set any record, any NBA record. I’m thankful, I’m appreciative. Like I always say I’ve got to thank my coaches and my teammates first and foremost. Without those guys I wouldn’t be sitting here having that conversation with you guys. So I’m appreciative of that.”
End of the road: The Heat play their final road game of the regular season Thursday in New York before finishing up the season with home games against Oklahoma City and Toronto. Miami is 18-22 away from home after Wednesday’s victory and needs a victory at the Knicks to finish one game better than last season’s 18-23 road record. Miami entered Wednesday’s game having dropped 11-of-12 on the road, 1o of those losses by six points or less, the other by 16 at Portland. Establishing come kind of road continuity, even against sub-.500 teams, is important considering Miami will be starting the playoffs on the road.
“We’ve got three more games left man in the regular season,” Ellington said. “Let’s finish off strong and see what happens.”