The Miami Heat raced out to a 9-2 lead to open their Sunday evening game against the Atlanta Hawks and never looked back, defeating their Southeast division rival 105-87 and winning their fourth straight game -- Miami's first four-game winning streak since the 2013-14 season.
For Miami, it appears the arrival of Beno Udrih, Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts coincided with a wider, positive adjustment in the Heat's playing style. No longer does it take the Heat 16 seconds to get Dwyane Wade a post-up; now, the Heat are pushing the ball up court, moving the ball well and finding open shots.
In this smooth offense, Wade acts best as the facilitator on the pick-and-roll, either finding Amar'e Stoudemire for easy dunks or Chris Bosh for mid-range jumpers. A Luol Deng 3 with 1:56 remaining in the game crystallized the night-and-day development from the Heat on offense. Wade and Bosh ran a pick-and-roll, but the Heat continued to move the ball until Udrih found Deng in the corner to ice the game.
Bosh scored 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field and seven boards. Wade added 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 shooting from the foul line to go along with eight assists and four rebounds. Wade didn't even convert on his first field goal until he drove down the lane for a layup midway through the second quarter -- and Miami was up 45-25. For at least the last few games, Miami hasn't looked like the team with an anemic offensive game we all got used to seeing.
Deng added 17 points for the Heat in one of his strongest games of the season. He scored eight points in the first quarter, sparking Miami to start the game. He may stand as the biggest beneficiary of the Heat's improved offense, getting more opportunities when the ball moves.
The most pleasant surprise over these past few games may be the job Amar'e Stoudemire has done in admirably filling in for Hassan Whiteside. Stoudemire registered his first double-double of the season, scoring 13 points and 12 rebounds in just 21 minutes. Stoudemire had two dunks in the first three minutes of the third quarter -- his solid screen-setting gives Wade the ability to drive to the basket, probe the defense and feed Stoudemire the ball when he's open. It will be interesting to see how Erik Spoelstra handles the power rotation when Whiteside returns. Will Josh McRoberts get pushed out of playing time? We'll see.
The Heat's 2015 first-round pick, Justise Winslow, was just a rebound shy of a double-double, putting up 10 points and nine rebounds. In one second-quarter sequence, Winslow showed his versatility. He grabbed the rebound off a Dennis Schroder layup and drove all the way to the basket for a floater in just five seconds. The rookie also offered his usual tough defense to contribute to a poor Hawks shooting night.
Miami will hit the road once again, visiting the Houston Rockets Tuesday at 8 p.m.