Miami Heat: Dion Waiters' "irrational" confidence infects NBA's hottest team

By Alex Butler
Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters (C) shoots between Chicago Bulls forwards Taj Gibson (L) and Paul Zipser (R) in the first half on Jan. 27, 2017 at the United Center in Chicago. (EPA/TANNEN MAURY)
1 of 3 | Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters (C) shoots between Chicago Bulls forwards Taj Gibson (L) and Paul Zipser (R) in the first half on Jan. 27, 2017 at the United Center in Chicago. (EPA/TANNEN MAURY)

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- His lively left leg lingered in celebration for so long that he nearly missed a defensive assignment in transition.

But Dion Waiters deserves a little pause for celebration. He got back just in time to defend the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday, after swishing his fifth made 3-pointer in six attempts. Waiters scored 21 points for the Miami Heat in its 125-102 win at AmericanAmerilines Arena. He has defibrillated the Heat's season, driving its league-best 10-game winning streak.


"Irrational," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Waiters' confidence Wednesday after beating the Atlanta Hawks. "He's got exceptional confidence. If we can bottle it and funnel it and drive it in the right way, that's a powerful thing. He's meeting us more than half way. You can see his versatility. You can see his skill level. He is unique in his ability to attack and he can also shoot the ball and defend. That's the part we emphasize the most. He's been doing that."


The undersized shooting guard is playing like a tried titan. But that's because he has been tried, once standing in the shadows of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook.

"It's just about...I've been on great teams, don't get me wrong," Waiters said. "Where your role had to change. I've been on good teams where some nights you might explode for 20-25 and the next night you might have 10 or 12. That's the nature of the game."

Waiters played with James' Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, before being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He joined Durant until they each decided to bolt as free agents this offseason, in favor of the Heat and Golden State Warriors, respectively. He gives credit to Durant for teaching him about consistency and work ethic.

"With LeBron, Russ, KD...Everyday, before and after practice, we were together," Waiters said. "We [with Durant] did everything together. So I was a sponge basically. Soaking all that up. Just seeing how hard he works everyday, even in the position he was in. Everyday was the same thing. Just being consistent and I took all that. I got that opportunity to myself, you get your routine, be consistent with it, no matter if it's going good or going bad. Stick with what you do. Stick with what you believe."


The NBA is beginning to believe. Waiters was named the NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played Monday, Jan. 23 through Sunday, Jan. 29. He averaged 23.3 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game during that stretch. He also drilled 12-of-25 3-point attempts. His last second 3-pointers helped down the Warriors and Brooklyn Nets.

"Let them keep sleeping," Waiters said after Saturday's game. "We are going to wake them up."

Spoelstra is embracing the invisible aspirations of this youthful egotism. Voiding veteran vanity in favor of a freshly constructed skyscraper with no roof. Gone are the days of multiple All-Stars and All-NBA accolades. Spoelstra said he doesn't want to put a "ceiling" on this team's confidence. But he'll have to at least bottle it a little longer, as the team departs for a four game road trip and the upcoming All-Star break.

"You have to maintain perspective," Spoelstra said of his 21-30 squad. "Don't believe the hype. We still have a lot of work to do. We still have to get to another level or two or three. We are open to it, but we constantly say that we have to focus on getting better, focus on our process every single day. You are never as good as you think you are, you are never as bad as you think you are. We've made some improvement but we still need to make some more."


Waiters has seen his confidence put in check before, admittedly by his former coaches.

"Yeah, you can't allow somebody to do that," Waiters said. "You gotta just believe. We believe no matter what. No matter what situation we are in."

Waiters, 25, is making $2.8 million this season. He has a $3 million player option on the table and is averaging career highs in assists [4] and rebounds [3.5]. Waiters' 15.4 points per game are his most since 2013.

The Heat's best player Saturday, however, was its highest-paid starter. Hassan Whiteside, who cashed in for $98 million this offseason, dominated the Sixers with 30 points and 20 rebounds. He needed just 27 minutes to do it.

"It's always great to win," Whiteside said. "It seems like each game we hear more and more about this streak. We don't really take about it. We don't get complacent. We got a tough team in Minnesota [Timberwolves] coming up. We can't overlook them. They have a good young core. We got to get a tough road win."

Whiteside said the Heat is a "different team."

"Our team is a lot more together."

The Heat battles the Timberwolves at 8 p.m. Monday at the Target Center. Waiters said rising from 11-30 to 21-30 has been "a hell of a ride."

"It's opportunity," Waiters said of his success. "Before, on different teams or good teams, you gotta pick and choose when you gotta shoot and things like that. Here, I don't have to do that. I can be Dion. It just shows. Opportunity. That's what it's about. That's the reason why I came here. I don't have to think. I can take whatever shot that I feel is best for us and the team and without hesitating or deferring to someone else. When you are able to play your game and have fun and enjoy it, you don't have to be out there thinking."

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