Heat really miss Dion Waiters down the stretch in close games. Take a look at the numbers

MIAMI — The Heat have been the NBA’s worst “clutch” team since March 18.

That 17-day period (from March 18-April 3) is also the same exact amount of time Miami has been without Dion Waiters. The Heat’s starting shooting guard sprained his left ankle on March 17 and has been out ever since.

Is that just a coincidence or is Waiters that important to the Heat’s winning formula late in close games?

Dion Waiters #11 of the Miami Heat celebrates a late three point basket while playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on March 6, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. Miami win the game 106-98. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“Dion can set guys up a lot. But he’s not here,” Hassan Whiteside said after Sunday’s loss to the Nuggets.

Consider this: In the eight games since Waiters’ injury, Miami is 1-3 in “clutch” games — 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 — and 3-5 overall. The Heat are tied with the Suns for the NBA’s worst plus/minus in these situations during this stretch, as opponents have outscored Miami by 18 points over the four “clutch” games it’s been a part of.

“Dion brings a lot to the table for us,” Wayne Ellington said when asked about Miami’s recent late-game struggles. “We need to come together collectively to pick that up. Just continue to play our game, continue to get in the lane penetrate, when the defense collapses and pitch out to the open shooter.”

For the season, the Heat are just 19-22 in “clutch” games and rank 25th out of the league’s 30 teams with a net rating of -13.2 in these situations. A lot of those struggles came during Miami’s slow start, as the Heat recorded an 8-15 “clutch” record over the first 41 games of the season.

But in the two months prior to Waiters’ injury, the Heat recorded a 10-4 record in “clutch” games from Jan. 17 through March 17. Only the Spurs had a better “clutch” record during this time at 10-3.

Waiters’ ability to create shots for himself and his teammates out of isolation sets was a big reason for Miami’s success late in close games during this two-month stretch.

Waiters ranked second on the team with a usage rate of 31.4 percent in “clutch” situations behind just Goran Dragic during this time. The 25-year-old also led the Heat with 1.9 shots per game in “clutch” situations, and he made an impressive 47.6 percent of those shots to go with four assists to just two turnovers over this two-month period.

To put that into perspective, Celtics All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas — who has earned the nickname “The King in the Fourth” — is shooting 47.7 percent in “clutch” situations this season.

Since Waiters went out with his ankle injury, the Heat are struggling to make shots and stop teams from scoring late in close games. That’s not a good combination.

Miami is shooting an NBA-worst 21.1 percent in “clutch” situations since March 18. James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Dragic have been asked to do more late in games with Waiters out, but the results have been underwhelming so far.

In “clutch” games since March 18, here are the shooting numbers: James Johnson and Tyler Johnson have each made 2-of-9 shots (22.2 percent), Richardson has missed all three of his shots, and Dragic is 1-of-8 (12.5 percent).

Meanwhile, opponents are shooting 57.7 percent against the Heat in “clutch” situations since Waiters has been out with a sprained ankle.

The Heat need Waiters back on the court as soon as possible for more reasons than just one. But his importance to Miami’s success late in close games is a big one.

“We need to execute more,” Dragic said of Miami’s late-game strategy with Waiters out. “We feel like when we don’t get a trigger then we have a problem. We need to get a trigger and then from there we need to move the ball. When we do that I feel like [we’re good]. It definitely starts with fourth quarter execution. We need to get back to our identity and try to move the ball. Then we’re going to get open shots.”

[Could Danilo Gallinari be an option for Heat in free agency?]

[Why is there no Last Two Minute Report for the Heat’s loss to the Nuggets?]

[Heat take Monday off for mental break with playoff fate still uncertain]

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s