MIAMI — In the long and storied history of the NBA, only one team still had a losing record immediately after a win streak longer than nine games, and that was the 1996-97 Phoenix Suns. The Suns won 11 straight games that season.
The Miami Heat, with nine straight wins, are tied for second on that list of losing teams suddenly getting hot. And with a schedule that features teams with losing records for their next six games, the Heat could shatter Phoenix’s record.
Crazy, isn’t it?
This was a Heat team that was given up for lottery dead only two weeks ago. Yet, on Wednesday night, they did it again as Goran Dragic scored a game-high 27 points, leading Miami past the Atlanta Hawks 116-93 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We just got better,” Dragic said when asked to explain this improbable streak. “We’re playing together as a team. We’re starting well, and our second wave comes in with great energy.”
Dion Waiters added 20 points for Miami, and Hassan Whiteside contributed 18 points and a game-high 18 rebounds.
The Heat (20-30), which was 19 games under .500 two weeks ago, has the longest active win streak in the NBA.
It’s also the Heat’s longest win streak in three years, and it’s the third-biggest run by an NBA team this season. Only the Golden State Warriors (12 straight wins) and the Houston Rockets (10) had longer runs.
Atlanta (28-20) was led by Kent Bazemore’s 14 points.
The Hawks’ top three scorers — Paul Millsap, who averages 18.1 points, Dennis Schroder (17.6) and Dwight Howard (13.8) — were all negated. Millsap had nine points, Schroder 12 and Howard six.
“We have to come out with a little more intensity.” Millsap said. “Defensively … we weren’t making it hard on them.”
The game was marred by a skirmish with 5:53 left in the fourth quarter. After grabbing an offensive rebound, Whiteside tried to go back up but was fouled hard by Taurean Prince.
James Johnson was the first Heat player to run over and shove Prince. Whiteside, who landed on his back, was on the ground, motionless, for a couple of minutes before he finally got up. Prince and Johnson were ejected.
Whiteside remained in the game and made one of two free throws. He then completed the possession by making a jump hook.
Johnson, who injured his right shoulder on the final play of Monday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, finished with 16 points, including 13 in the first half.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who said Whiteside was “fine”, was upset with the play by Prince.
“It was unfortunate,” Spoelstra said. “(Prince) hard-fouled (Whiteside), unnecessarily it looked like.
“I think (Whiteside) responded great. He gathered himself emotionally and controlled what he could control, which was to beat them on the court.”
Atlanta led early 7-2 but Miami got rolling with an 11-0 run, and the Heat led for the rest of the quarter, taking a 29-22 lead.
Miami never trailed again, taking a 62-47 lead into halftime. Dragic had 15 points in the third quarter — his highest-scoring period of the season — as Miami extended its lead to 91-69.
Miami was never challenged in the fourth quarter and finished the game with a 54-36 edge in paint points, holding Atlanta to 39.1 percent shooting.
Schroder credited the Heat for what they did to the Hawks.
“They’re playing pretty good,” he said. “James Johnson was with us (in Atlanta) — I love his game. Waiters is playing very well. Dragic did a great job. They’re coming along as a team.”
NOTES: Heat PF Luke Babbitt, who suffered an ankle injury Monday and didn’t practice Tuesday, was able to start and scored eight points. … Wednesday was a big day for Heat reserve F Udonis Haslem, 36. His son, 6-4, 290-pound defensive tackle Kedonis Haslem, signed a scholarship offer to play college football for Toledo. … With the Atlanta Falcons preparing for Sunday’s Super Bowl, many of the city’s sports fans are more focused on football at the moment. But the Hawks have been a compelling story — this was their first game since beating the New York Knicks in four overtimes Sunday afternoon. That was only the 11th four-OT game in NBA history. … Up next, the Hawks go to the Super Bowl host city to face the Houston Rockets on Thursday. … Miami’s next six games are against teams with losing records, starting with Saturday’s visit by the Philadelphia 76ers.