MIAMI (SportsDirect Inc.) – The Miami Heat were thinking about next season a little over a month ago, and things have changed dramatically as they prepare to host the Indiana Pacers for a key Eastern Conference battle on Saturday night.
The Heat have won 15 of their last 17 games after rolling over Atlanta 108-90 on Friday and are within two games of the eighth and final playoff spot after a demoralizing 11-30 start.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters Friday the Heat’s keys are to defend and play physical, but “we need to find different ways to win in this league and we’ll have to do that down the stretch as it gets very competitive.”
Indiana found its game Friday in the first contest after the All-Star break as it shot 51.3 percent en route to a 102-92 victory over Memphis that snapped a six-game losing streak.
C.J. Miles arose from a slump to score 17 points for the Pacers, who received just nine points and nine rebounds from All-Star Paul George.
Indiana also improved defensively Friday after allowing at least 110 points in all six contests during its losing streak (an average of 117.3).
ABOUT THE PACERS (30-28): George, who was mentioned in trade rumors up to Thursday’s trading deadline despite being the team’s leading scorer, made just 3-of-12 from the field one day later and has missed 10 of his last 12 attempts from 3-point range. Miles had averaged 6.3 points in his previous three contests before breaking out for 17 Friday – making 5-of-9 from 3-point range – and Monta Ellis scored 16 on 7-of-10 from the field. Forward Thaddeus Young returned Friday after missing eight games with a wrist injury to scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor.
ABOUT THE HEAT (26-32): Reserve guard Tyler Johnson stepped up with 23 points Friday and is averaging 17.4 over his last five games to add another weapon to an improving offense that has scored at least 100 in 15 straight games. Miami got it done against Atlanta without a big effort from center Hassan Whiteside, who was 1-of-9 from the field and went without a double-double for just the second time in nine games. Guard Goran Dragic was just 5-of-16 from the field on Friday, but leads the team in scoring and is averaging 22.2 points over the last five games.
- Miami G Dion Waiters was just 6-of-19 from the field on Friday, but posted a season-high 10 assists.
- Indiana PG Jeff Teague reached double figures in assists in two of the last three contests.
- The Heat have won the last three meetings, including a 95-89 victory on Dec. 14.
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