Heat now within half-game of playoffs, thanks to Dion Waiters' lifetime supply of daggers

Ball Don't Lie
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5010/" data-ylk="slk:Dion Waiters">Dion Waiters</a>, mid-double-pump and mid-delivering-in-the-clutch. (AP)
Dion Waiters, mid-double-pump and mid-delivering-in-the-clutch. (AP)

Left for dead just two months ago with a dismal record and a spate of injuries, the Miami Heat have since ranked among the NBA’s most surprising and flat-out best stories. Their second-half surge continued Wednesday, as they came back from a late-third-quarter deficit with a 12-0 fourth-quarter run to take control of their matchup with the Charlotte Hornets before putting the game away behind another round of late-fourth-quarter daggers from — who else? — the inimitable Dion Waiters:

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Waiters scored nine of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, knocking down three 3-pointers — the last of which came with 45 seconds remaining, after he had already missed one triple try on the possession, before teammate Hassan Whiteside grabbed the offensive rebound to give him another try — to lead the Heat to a 108-101 win.

Miami has now won 20 of its last 24 games, the best record in the NBA since Jan. 15, to improve to 31-34 on the season and draw within a hair’s breadth of something that would’ve been unthinkable when the calendar flipped to 2017:

They’ve been doing it with defense, allowing just 102.3 points per 100 possessions since mid-January, the third-stingiest mark in the league behind the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. They’ve been doing it with offense, averaging 110.9 points-per-100 themselves, sixth in the NBA in that span, while knocking down 11.8 3-pointers a game (fifth-best) at a league-leading 41 percent clip as a team.

They’ve been doing it with stellar play in tight games, boasting the league’s second-best winning percentage (9-3, .750) since Jan. 15 in games where the score’s been within five points in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime. They’ve outscored opponents by a blistering 26.5 points-per-100 in those “clutch” situations during that stretch … and your man Dion — who went 8-for-16 from the floor and 5-for-10 from 3-point range, adding five assists, three rebounds and a steal in 27 minutes &dmash; has been a big part of all that:

Another major part of Miami’s 20-4 rampage: Waiters’ backcourt partner Goran Dragic, who continued his sensational play over the past few months with 22 points on 6-for-13 shooting, 10 assists, six rebounds and a steal in 34 minutes, during which the Heat outscored the Hornets by 20 points:

Whiteside added a double-double with 10 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and two steals. Luke Babbitt knocked down four of his eight 3-point tries. James Johnson continued to do a little bit of everything, chipping in 10 points with six rebounds, five assists and three blocks off the bench. Reserve big man Willie Reed was energetic and explosive in short bursts, adding seven points with six rebounds in just under 13 minutes.

“Everybody contributed. Everybody played well,” Dragic said after the game. “And Dion did his thing again.”

“He saved us,” Spoelstra said. “You need guys that can create something out of nothing.”

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In that way, while Dragic has probably been the Heat’s best player during this magical stretch, Waiters has emerged as their spirit animal — the embodiment of a team that didn’t seem to have nearly enough raw materials to create anything more than a lot of losses and high lottery odds, but that has built something much more than that through defensive commitment, an emphasis on playmaking for others, the chemistry that comes through collective success … and, perhaps above all else, confidence:

(Not quite as good as Waiters’ other favorite quote, but hey, whatever works.)

No one’s ever accused Dion of having a dearth of confidence, that’s for sure. And now, sitting just a half-game behind the Chicago Bulls and old friend Dwyane Wade in the race for the East’s eighth and final playoff berth, the Heat as a whole share their shooting guard’s surfeit.

“Our game can still get to another two, three, four levels,” Spoelstra said. “Whatever it is, we’re not going to put a ceiling on it.”

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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