It is an epiphany more than 60 games in the making. But the Miami Heat have discovered the joys of scoring.
It is an awakening that not only has taken the scoreboard to the next level, but could well fuel something beyond the middling record the team has carried through most of the season.
“Boy, it’s taken a long time. It really has,” coach Erik Spoelstra said in the wake of Wednesday night’s 138-119 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at Miami-Dade Arena, “And sometimes things that you hope or think might happen don’t. You just have to figure it out. And you have to grind. It ultimately is about winning.
“So first 45 games of the year, we knew how we could win games, and that’s defending at an incredible high level and keeping games close and have our closers finish it off. But we’ve been diligently working on our offensive efficiency, getting the ball where it needs to go, making sure we have the right shot profile and get to our strength zones way more often, particularly in those moments of truth and skirmishes, that we continue to do that.”
For the season, the Heat still rank No. 26 of the 30 teams in offensive rating.
But the trends have been positive over the past month.
In the 12 games since the All-Star break, the Heat are No. 12 in offensive rating. In the last 10 games, they’re No. 10, In the last six, they’re No. 4.
“We’ve finally shown some progress now that we’ve gotten a lot of healthier bodies out there for the last eight or nine games,” Spoelstra said, with his team idle until a weekend road set Saturday against the Chicago Bulls and Sunday against the Detroit Pistons.
Wednesday night, the ball was particularly popping, with 33 assists to 13 turnovers, leading to a .598 field-goal percentage and fueling a 42-point fourth quarter.
“Just watching,” guard Tyler Herro said, “like I was on the bench a couple of times and saw the way the ball was moving and I was telling guys like, ‘This is who we are. This is how we play. This is how we win.’
“We just had our guys still have big scoring nights. But the ball was moving, getting open looks and guys on the other team overreact in certain situations and that’s how you can create good looks.”
The offensive turnaround somewhat coincides with the arrival of veteran forward Kevin Love from the buyout market.
“I think just trusting one another. Each guy’s getting an opportunity,” Love said. “We’re getting out in transition. I think our pace is definitely a little bit better. We feel like it can get even better from here.
“And just trusting each other I think is the biggest thing for us.”
Another element of the upgrade in efficiency has been the return of point guard Kyle Lowry from a month off due to knee pain, back for the past three games, when the Heat have scored 126, 119 and 138.
“Look,” Spoelstra said, “I don’t know where this is going to be in two or three weeks, a month from now. This is just an incredible luxury for our team to have Kyle Lowry in 20 minutes off the bench.
“He’s an incredible talent to help organize that second unit. And, look, that second unit has had a lot of moving parts all season long, and probably unfairly has drawn some criticism, because of all the changing of roles and moving parts and all that stuff. But when you have a Hall of Fame point guard that can help you get everything organized in those minutes, you don’t even have to overcoach it. It’s going to work itself out. I don’t see that as a coincidence at all, that the ball is moving, guys are getting organized.”
Ultimately, Spoelstra said the offensive success is in the simplicity, with Wednesday’s performance leading him to invoke a truism from Heat President Pat Riley.
“The guys were just playing without a whole lot of thought,” he said. “Just if a guy was open, you’d pass it to him. All of us can probably complicate things more than we need to. I think Pat used to say that the first fundamental law of offense is, ‘If there’s an open man, pass it to him.’ We did that.”
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