After facing mainly lottery-bound opponents in the past five games, the potentially short-handed Miami Heat now try to maintain their slim lead in the Eastern Conference by taking on a string of teams that are either headed to the playoffs or contending for berths.
With statuses of Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden uncertain, the Heat will try to get past the New York Knicks, who expect to have an ailing Carmelo Anthony on the court Sunday.
Miami (52-23) has played without Wade (hamstring) and Oden (back spasms) for the last five games but has managed to pull percentage points ahead of Indiana. The Heat have won four of five in that stretch, which featured four opponents that are currently eliminated from playoff contention.
Miami couldn’t get past one of those teams Friday despite getting Ray Allen back from a five-game absence due to the flu. The Heat fell 122-121 in double overtime to Minnesota but caught a break when Indiana lost 102-94 in Toronto that same night.
"We just move on to the next one," forward Chris Bosh said. "We’ve got a big game Sunday. It looks like this thing is going to go down to the wire so we might as well have fun with it."
The Heat have two games in hand on the Pacers, who host Atlanta on Sunday night. Indiana will face two eliminated teams in its final five games while the Heat will take on six straight opponents that are no worse than ninth in their respective conferences.
New York (33-44) is in ninth, one game behind Atlanta. The Knicks were percentage points ahead of the Hawks on Wednesday after winning their third in a row but fell 90-89 to Washington on Friday.
Atlanta, which currently holds the tiebreaker because of its better conference record, beat Cleveland that same night.
Anthony re-aggravated a right shoulder injury that he said he suffered in a 110-81 rout of Brooklyn on Wednesday. The Knicks star committed a season-high nine turnovers Friday and was held to 10 points, his lowest total of 2013-14, but said afterward that "there was no way I was coming out."
J.R. Smith scored a season-high 32 but missed a potential winning 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds to go.
"For sure, I’ll be there Sunday," Anthony said. "… We’ve been up against the wall this whole time. … We’ve got some pretty good wins on the road. We want to keep it up. We’ve got five games left to try to make this happen."
Anthony, averaging 27.7 points on the season, has averaged 34.0 in his last seven regular-season games against the Heat and had 29 in the most recent matchup Feb. 27 in Miami.
The Heat, though, got 31 points from LeBron James and 23 from Wade in a 108-82 rout. Miami has won two of the three matchups this season with James averaging 31.0 points and shooting 65.5 percent.
Wade has missed 24 games in 2013-14, but has played in all three against New York and averaged 22.7 points and 72.1 percent from the field, his best shooting percentage against any opponent.
"We’ll just have to see how he feels (Saturday)," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He’s been stepping up his workouts every day."
Bosh has shot 29.6 percent and averaged 5.3 points in the season series, easily his worst scoring mark against any opponent.