Heat on historic close-game pace; what the data reveals. And Haslem on playing again

D.A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com

The Heat isn’t merely playing more close games than any other team in the NBA. They’re on a pace to play more close games than any team in modern NBA history.

Miami has played 28 games decided by five points or fewer, a pace that would break the modern NBA record of 41 such games, per Heat.com. They’re 17-11 in those games.

No team in the NBA has played more “clutch” minutes, defined by the NBA as games with a margin of five points or fewer in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. Miami has played 155 clutch minutes, 15 ahead of the No. 2 team (Dallas).

The Heat is now 20-16 in games featuring clutch minutes, a winning percentage that ranks 11th. Miami has outscored teams by 24 points in the clutch, which is sixth best.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say you’re comfortable in these moments,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “My stomach certainly doesn’t feel like that. But our guys are competitors. They love how that feels in the last six minutes of the game, if it’s a possession game. At times it drives me crazy.

“And then some of the things we’ve just repeated reps, you understand what your fourth-quarter package is, you understand where the ball needs to go, you understand how you’re going to execute under duress against different coverages, and then different guys stepping up.”

That experience late in close games is helpful, players say.

“The more experience you have in any situation, the more comfortable and better you’re going to be,” Jimmy Butler said. “Yes we’ve been in a lot of close games for many years. We know what it takes to win... close games. Maybe we’re starting to get the hang of this thing.”

This week has been stomach-churning; Thursday’s 106-104 loss to the Knicks followed a 100-97 win in Cleveland. The Heat closes its four-game road trip on Saturday in Milwaukee (8 p.m., Bally Sports Sun).

The Heat’s 43.9 shooting percentage in the clutch ranks 11th. But Miami is shooting just 29.5 percent on clutch threes, which is 17th in the league.

As perspective, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Denver — three sure-fire playoff teams — are all shooting better than 39 percent on clutch threes.

With clutch threes, no Heat player with more than two attempts is shooting better than 35 percent. Tyler Herro — who missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer against the Knicks on Thursday — is shooting 33.3 percent (12 for 36) on clutch threes, as are Kyle Lowry (5 for 15) and Victor Oladipo (2 for 6).

On clutch threes, Caleb Martin is shooting 28.6 percent (2 for 7) and Max Strus 29.2 (7 for 24). Butler is 0 for 4 on clutch threes.

The Heat’s best clutch shooter on all field-goal attempts has been Bam Adebayo, who’s at 60.5 percent (23 of 38). That’s fourth best among all NBA players with at least 20 clutch shots.

Lowry — who hasn’t played late in the game in four of the Heat’s past five close games — is second on the team in clutch field-goal percentage (minimum three shots) - at 46.9 (15 for 32). Butler is third at 46.7 (28 for 60).

The Heat is adept at forcing turnovers late in close games; their 26 steals lead the league in that category. Their 82.1 clutch free-throw percentage is sixth best.

“We don’t feel pressure,” late in close games, Herro said. “It’s a big moment in a big game, but that’s what we work for. It’s been the case for most games. Going into the playoffs, that’s what we need to be in those situations, so we’re prepared for anything.”


Udonis Haslem, used as the backup center against the Knicks, has appeared in six games in his 20th and final NBA season, after appearing in 18 combined during the previous three.

Haslem, 42, had two rebounds in 10 scoreless minutes against the Knicks, with Spoelstra again bypassing Dewayne Dedmon, who hasn’t played since a one-game suspension on Jan. 12.

“Small minutes, you’ve got to have an impact, make my presence felt,” Haslem said. “I’ll get better with time. Healthy now. I’ve had an Achilles issue earlier in the season that was hampering me since last year. I’m healthy. I felt like myself, making winning plays, all the little things, things that may not show up on the box score.”

After scoring just three points on 1-for-7 shooting Thursday against the Knicks, Lowry has scored in single digits in seven of his past nine games and is 9 for his last 36 from the field.

“Just missing shots,” Lowry said. Lowry’s 12.0 scoring average is 25th among NBA point guards.

The Bucks might pay closer attention to Gabe Vincent on Saturday, after he erupted for 28 and 27 points in back-to-back games against them in mid-January. Vincent was 21 for 31 from the field and 10 for 19 on threes in those games.

He said Milwaukee started giving him more attention defensively later in the second of those two games in Miami.

“We had some guys who pose some threats,” he said. “They don’t want to leave guys to come deal with me; they would rather have me score than Jimmy.”


Victor Oladipo is doubtful for Saturday’s game with a sprained ankle. He missed Thursday’s game at the Knicks with that same injury.