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