So, while the Heat are attempting to win their visit with the Washington Wizards, they will keep a glance on the scoreboard and hope for some assistance on Saturday.
Miami (38-41) was 11-30 after losing by eight to the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 13. They won their next 13 and are 27-11 since then to get into the top eight in the crowded Eastern Conference.
Recent stumbles have left the Heat out of the top eight for now. Miami is 3-5 in its last eight games since a 15-point home win over the Phoenix Suns on March 21 and is in the midst of a challenging four-game stretch to close the season.
Part one of their challenging schedule began Friday with a 96-94 loss at Toronto. The Heat fell behind by as many as 18 points in the first half, forged an 82-82 deadlock but couldn’t keep pace.
The result was a late-night flight that left the Heat one game behind the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers, who are both 39-40.
“It’s all a challenge,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is the way we have been for the past two-and-a-half, three months. We have been in our March Madness, we feel like every single game has had the feeling of an elimination game for several straight weeks.”
Miami should have an idea of what Chicago did when they take the court in Washington. The Bulls begin their game in Brooklyn two hours before Miami starts its latest version of “the biggest game of the season” and Indiana tips off in Orlando one hour before.
On Friday, James Johnson had 22 points and 10 rebounds. Goran Dragic scored 18 points, and Hassan Whiteside had 12 points and 10 rebounds despite early foul trouble that ultimately put the Heat in the same uphill climb they’ve been making since mid-January.
“We never used excuses that someone is hurt or we are tired, we don’t care about that,” Dragic said. “We just want to do our job. It’s back-to-back and we play another good team, so we are going to have to show that we can play.”
This eight-game slump has been with Dion Waiters in street clothes. Waiters missed his 10th straight game with a sprained left ankle. Waiters did not accompany the team to Toronto and there’s a slight chance he might return Saturday.
Falling short in Toronto also impacted the Wizards.
Washington (48-31) is one-half game behind Toronto. Even if the Wizards tie Toronto it might only temporary since the Raptors have a noon road game Sunday in New York.
In the meantime, the Wizards will attempt to solve some of their recent defensive woes.
Despite leaving New York with a 106-103 win over the Knicks on Thursday, the postgame comments centered on sub-par defense, especially after Washington nearly coughed up a 15-point lead.
“We have a bigger picture,” point guard John Wall said. “We’re trying to play for the playoffs and play for something special so we have to do a better job defensively. Defense is a big factor in the playoffs because every possession matters. Offense and all that is not our problem.”
Those were Wall’s words after the Wizards needed a tiebreaking 3-pointer from Bradley Beal with 49 seconds to hold off the Knicks.
And Wall is technically right. Washington’s scoring defense (107.4 points) and defensive rating (109.3) are in the bottom half of the league.
Beal totaled 25 points while Wall compiled 24 and eight assists as the Wizards moved to within two wins of their first 50-win season since 1978-79 and sixth overall.
“Hey, a win is a win,” Beal said. “We love it because our goal is to get 50 — we have two more, so we’ll definitely take it. We’re still not satisfied with the way we played.
“We know we could play a lot better, especially defensively, and offensively, we could have moved the ball a little better, too. It’s a lot of things we’re going to take from it, good and bad, but a win is a win. We’ll take it.”
The teams split the first two meetings.
Wall and Beal scored 34 points apiece in a 114-111 home win on Nov. 19. In Miami’s 112-101 home win on Dec. 12, Dragic scored 34 points.