Nets-Heat Preview

The Miami Heat don’t know where they’ll open the postseason just

yet, but they’ll head into either Atlanta or Boston this weekend

armed with plenty of confidence.

The Heat have won 11 of 12 heading into their regular-season

finale Wednesday night against the visiting New Jersey Nets, and

they can wrap up the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed by completing

a season sweep of the league’s worst team.

Miami (46-35) was on the outside of the playoff picture on March

1, when it was in ninth place – 1 1/2 games behind Charlotte for

the East’s final postseason berth.

Since then, the Heat have gone 17-4 and entrenched themselves as

a dangerous playoff opponent. They’ve shot 49.4 percent and held

opponents to 88.9 points per game in going 11-1 since March 20,

hitting 55.6 percent from the field in a 107-105 victory at

Philadelphia on Monday.

“We have built up some pretty good habits, and this was at least

a habit of learning how to stick around and win a game,” coach Erik

Spoelstra told the NBA’s official Web site.

Shortly after the Heat beat the 76ers, Milwaukee lost to Atlanta

to fall a game behind Miami for the No. 5 seed. Miami will clinch

that spot with a win over New Jersey (12-69) or a Bucks loss at

Boston, and would open the postseason against the Celtics.

Much of the Heat’s resurgence can be credited to the play of

Udonis Haslem, who has averaged 13.2 points and 10.5 rebounds –

shooting 60 percent – over his last 10 games.

Haslem had been having an inconsistent season prior to that, but

he scored a season-high 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against

the Nets on Nov. 14. It took a Dwyane Wade 3-pointer with 0.1

seconds left, though, for Miami to escape with an 81-80 home

victory over New Jersey.

The Heat’s two subsequent wins at the Meadowlands weren’t easy,

either. Michael Beasley scored 23 points in an 87-84 win on Feb.

17, then Wade (27) and Jermaine O’Neal (25) helped make up for the

absence of Haslem on March 22, rallying Miami from a halftime

deficit to a 99-89 victory.

The Nets close out the worst season in franchise history

Wednesday night, but they can finish with a 6-6 record over their

last 12 games.

Since a 4-2 stretch, however, the Nets have dropped four of

five. New Jersey shot just 39.3 percent – hitting 4 of 24 from

3-point range – in a 105-95 loss to Charlotte on Monday, the final

game in its 29-year run at the Meadowlands.

The game against the Heat is likely also the finale for interim

coach Kiki Vandeweghe, who may head back to the role of general

manager full time in 2010-11.

“What I tell them is doing your best has no time table,”

Vandeweghe said. “Whether you step out in the playground, your

first or last NBA game, you do your best every single time you step

on the court. That’s what I expect from them and that’s what they

should expect from themselves and from each other.”

One encouraging sign for the future is the play of rookie

forward Terrence Williams. The 11th pick of the draft has averaged

just 7.0 points in three games against Miami, but he’s averaged

17.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists in his last seven games

overall.