76ers-Heat Preview

The Miami Heat are taking advantage of a favorable final stretch

of the season to gain some momentum heading into the playoffs.

Owners of the NBA’s longest current winning streak, the Heat try

for a ninth consecutive victory as they host the Philadelphia 76ers

on Wednesday night.

After closing February with four straight losses to fall two

games under .500, Miami (43-34) has won 14 of 17 and is in position

to earn the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Heat clinched

a playoff berth despite being idle Tuesday.

“It’s been real fun,” forward Udonis Haslem said. “We always

felt like we had a run like this in us. Being able to put it

together, it’s kind of gratifying, but at the same time we’re still

hungry to get better and try to keep it going this way, not to get

complacent.”

During its winning stretch since the beginning of March, Miami’s

17 opponents have shot 41.5 percent and averaged 90.4 points.

During the eight-game winning streak, the Heat have allowed 82.9

points per contest.

“The real impact is when guys really start to believe,” Heat

coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And that can take defense to a whole

another level, with the effort, but the belief. That’s what we’re

starting to see these last few weeks.”

The Heat are currently in the midst of a final eight-game

stretch against teams that will not make the playoffs. That

continues against Philadelphia (26-51), which has averaged 84.5

points in its two losses to Miami this season.

“It’s very important to keep it going, keep our groove on

defensively going into the playoffs and just staying in it

mentally, making sure we keep this spot that we’re in right now,”

said Haslem, who’s averaging 13.2 points and 11.3 rebounds over his

last six games.

Dwyane Wade, who scored 39 points in Miami’s 97-84 win at

Minnesota on Saturday, is averaging 30.8 on 56.4 percent shooting

in his last five games. The All-Star had 38 points in a 104-91 home

win over the 76ers on March 14.

While Miami tries to continue its surge into the postseason,

Philadelphia looks for anything positive down the stretch after

losing its fourth in a row, 124-103 to Detroit on Tuesday.

Marreese Speights scored 21 points, but the 76ers allowed the

Pistons to shoot 62.7 percent – the highest by any Philadelphia

opponent this season.

“It was just a poor performance and no excuse,” said 76ers coach

Eddie Jordan, who limited the minutes for several of his starters,

including Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert.

Miami is shooting 50.3 percent in two games against the 76ers in

2009-10.

After scoring a season-high 33 points in a loss to Toronto on

Saturday, Philadelphia’s leading scorer Andre Iguodala was held to

12 against the Pistons. He’s averaged a mere 11.9 points in 10

career games at Miami.

The teams conclude their season series at Philadelphia on

Monday.