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1:09 AM ET

  • ESPN Stats & Information

Dion Waiters, playoff savior?

The Miami Heat's turn from bottom-of-the-barrel lottery team to legitimate contender to make the playoffs came about when they got Waiters back from injury and moved him back into the starting lineup on Jan. 10. The Heat lost their next two games to finish a 1-5 road trip. But since then, they are 20-4, the best record in the NBA since Jan. 17.

Waiters had 24 points in 27 minutes in a comeback win over the Hornets on Wednesday. He is far from the only reason the Heat are winning, but he’s certainly an important part of the mix.

Waiters’ 3-point shooting has been huge. He is hitting 45 percent from 3-point range over his past 20 games, including 5-of-10 Wednesday. That’s a big difference from his first 22 games of the season, in which he shot 31 percent from 3-point range.

Waiters’ success and the Heat’s success coincide (though one doesn’t necessarily cause the other). Miami is 11-3 when Waiters scores at least 20 points in a game and 9-3 when he makes at least three 3-point shots.

It’s Dragic too

The Heat were actually outscored by four points with Waiters on the floor, so the presence of his other backcourt mate was vital. Goran Dragic had 22 points and 10 assists, with the Heat outscoring the Hornets by 20 with him on the floor.

Dragic was 9-of-9 from the free throw line. He’s an 87 percent free throw shooter in his past 11 games. Prior to that, he had a 12-game stretch in which he shot 69 percent from the line.

Wednesday’s other difference-makers

The Heat reserves had a major impact on Wednesday’s victory. The Heat's bench outscored the Hornets' bench 38-18.

One key Heat reserve was Willie Reed, who had seven points and six rebounds in 12:38 of playing time. In that span, the Heat outscored the Hornets by 20 points. Reed played just over six minutes in the fourth quarter and had back-to-back baskets (one a dunk) to put the Heat ahead for good. He finished the quarter plus-12.

Reed was similarly valuable in a road win over the Cavaliers in the Heat’s last win, finishing plus-11 with four points and seven rebounds in 11:41.

From bleak to … almost there

The Heat were 11-30 at the season’s midpoint and had an 0.03 percent chance to make the playoffs. Their win and the Bulls’ loss Wednesday moved them to within a half-game of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

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