Heat face gauntlet of strong opponents down stretch
MIAMI — There was little time to dwell on their missed opportunity. The Miami Heat have seven regular-season games remaining, the next six against teams fighting for a postseason berth or improved seeding.
"It’s a lot of fun, isn’t it? It just never stops, it just never stops," Chris Bosh said following Miami’s 122-121 double-overtime defeat to Minnesota on Friday night.
The loss prevented the top-seeded Heat from increasing their lead over Eastern Conference rival Indiana.
"I gave up being stressed out, and just let the good times roll."
The Heat (52-23) remained percentage points ahead of the Pacers (53-24) in the race for the East’s No. 1 seed. Indiana, which lost at Toronto 102-94 on Friday, has played two more games than Miami.
Next up for Miami will be New York on Sunday afternoon, then Brooklyn on Tuesday, a game at Memphis on Wednesday and Indiana on Friday — all teams battling for a playoff spot or seeding.
After that will be road games at Atlanta, which is competing with the Knicks and Cleveland for the conference’s final playoff spot, and at Washington, currently the sixth seed.
Only Philadelphia on the season’s final day at AmericanAirlines Arena rates as an opponent playing out the string.
"I don’t think we need to play teams battling for playoff position to get us ready," LeBron James said. "Minnesota’s not battling for a playoff position.
"We’re going to get everybody’s best shot every single night. We have to just be ready for it no matter who it is."
Miami’s latest loss — with Dwyane Wade (hamstring) and Greg Oden (back) each missing a fifth straight game — gave the Heat a 3-5 record in one-point games. Not ideal when close games and playoffs often go together.
James and Mario Chalmers each sank 8 of 10 free throws against the Timberwolves, but their misses were costly. Chalmers failed to give Miami a lead in the final seconds of both regulation and the first overtime. James missed a freebie that would have tied the score with 16.2 seconds to go in the second overtime.
"It definitely felt like a playoff game," Chalmers said, "but that’s what we need, a playoff atmosphere like that heading into the playoffs."
Besides hitting free throws, the Heat understood playoff success depends greatly on exhibiting tough defense and limiting the amount of their own turnovers.
Heading into Friday night’s game, the Heat had held each of their previous five opponents to below 85 points. Minnesota, however, scored 97 points through four quarters despite having missed eight foul shots.
"This is the first good offensive team we’ve played in a while," Bosh said of the T-Wolves. "Some of the passes they were making it was like, ‘Damn!’ But that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes the perfect scheme is just scrambling and masking plays on the defensive end."
The Heat committed 17 turnovers, seven coming after the third quarter.
"We had one where we didn’t even run our set. It was just, ‘Here you go,’" Bosh said. "You just start freaking out when that happens. We can’t have that in the playoffs. We know how it is. We’re going to have to keep our turnovers down.
"This was the first game in a while that we’ve had some slippage in that area, but for the most part, we’re going to have to do a much, much better job down the stretch."
A season-ending stretch that continues with the Knicks visiting the Triple-A in a nationally televised game.
"We’ve got a big game Sunday," Bosh said. "It looks like this thing is going to go down to the wire so we might as well have fun with it."