LOOKING BACK ON 16 YEARS
The Miami Heat host the San Antonio Spurs in game seven of the NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena in 2013. Dwyane Wade is beside himself as he holds the championship trophy for the third time in his career at American Airlines Arena. Wade is set to play in his final regular-season home game Tuesday night. Heat beat writer Ira Winderman ranks the star guard’s top 10 Miami Heat moments during his stellar 16-year NBA career.
TORONTO — For those who insist the NBA season is too long, the Miami Heat have your answer:
A three-game sprint to the finish. The question now is whether they are too gassed after three consecutive losses.
Hardly in this position by choice, the Heat exited Friday night’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center aware that if they win their final three games, there will be playoffs, albeit without a winning record.
“You get to this point of the season, it’s unpredictable,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, as the Heat turned their attention to Sunday’s noon game against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena. “It’s how you respond to it and
that’s all. We just have to stay together and focus on the next game.”
With the Eastern Conference proving to be particularly forgiving, a 38-41 record still has the Heat positioned to play on beyond Wednesday’s regular-season finale against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclay Center.
“A three-game season,” forward James Johnson said, “I think that puts things in perspective. I think it’s a lot easier to bottle up three games and to know — empty the tank every game.”
Or, as forward Kelly Olynyk said, no different than being down
3-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series. “We’ve put some good games together this year,” he said. “We’ve just got to do it three games in a row. That’s the key.”
Actually, such talk is what Spoelstra is trying to guard against. He said the approach has to be three one-game seasons, first against the Raptors, then Tuesday night against the Philadelphia
76ers at AmericanAirlines Arena, and then in Dwyane Wade’s regular-season career finale in Brooklyn.
“The only thing we can control is the next game, not even the next three,” Spoelstra cautioned. “Let’s just focus on the next one and go from there.”
It is a message, Wade said, is essential to heed.
“We just got to go out and, as coach says, we’ve got to win the next one, like a playoff mentality,” he said.
While not specifically the circumstance, guard Goran Dragic said it effectively is now singleelimination for the Heat.
“The next game should be played like it’s the only one left, that approach,” he said. “Don’t think about, ‘OK, if you win Toronto, you’re going to be ready for Philly.’ The mentality is just Toronto right now, nobody else.”
With each of the past three losses coming down to the waning seconds, including Wade being off with a potential winning 3-point attempt against the Timberwolves, forward Justise Winslow said the Heat are not that far off.
“It’s a lot of fun, man,” he said. “Our backs are against the wall. I’m excited for the challenge. I’m not holding my head down. We still have a possibility to make the playoffs. So I’m locked in right now. I’m excited.
“This is what you want as a competitor. It’s put up or shut up. So hopefully we do the first one. This is when you find out what you’re made of, all the countless hours you spend in the gym, the film sessions, being around the team. This is what it comes down to. We’re going to see what our connection, what our heart is about in the next few games.”
While the playoffs don’t start until next week, Spoelstra said they have moved up a week for his team.
“You want to win in the playoffs, you have to learn how to win pressure games and games with expectation and consequences during the regular season,” he said. “This can’t feel any more like the playoffs right now. Our backs are fully against the wall.
“I just think this is an awesome experience for our team. You have to embrace this and find a way to rise to the challenge.
“Is it playing out perfectly in the way any of us would have wanted? It never does in the playoffs. So you might as well get used to it right now.”
No. 1: Dwyane Wade hangs onto the rim after dunking in the first quarter of Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals against Dallas.
Erik Spoelstra still sees hope for the Heat in a playoff race that has grown exponentially more challenging.