Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

Highwire: ‘It feels like we play a playoff game every night’

- By Ira Winderman

MIAMI — Clearly the Feb. 4 road game against the Milwaukee Bucks was a glitch, that Miami Heat loss somehow decided by a robust eight points.

Otherwise, hectic, harrowing, hair-raising.

With Saturday night’s 107-103 overtime road victory over the Orlando Magic, nine of the Heat’s past 10 games have been decided by five or fewer points.

“It feels like 10 out of 10,” guard Gabe Vincent said with a smile, with the Heat’s highwire act now moving on to Monday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets at Miami-Dade Arena.

It also is nothing new, the Heat’s 32-25 overall record largely built off a 19-11 record in games decided by five or fewer.

“It feels like we play a playoff game every night,” center Bam Adebayo said.

The numbers agree.

Of the Heat’s 57 games this season, a league-leading 40 have been defined as “clutch” games, the NBA term for games that stand within five points at any stage of the final five minutes. The Heat have a league-high 23 victories in those games, at 23-17. Further, the Heat have played a league-high 169 clutch minutes this season, when those games have stood within five points.

“It’s must see and it’s going to be a close game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the 2022-23 Heat-coaster. “It’s going to be a possession game. There’s going to be some crazy things that happen in the last three minutes.”

But while their coach is caught up in the moment to the degree of running on the court amid play to call a timeout in the final seconds of regulation (yes, it happened again with the surprising­ly fleetof-foot Spoelstra on Saturday night), to his players it has become just is another night at the office.

“They’re not afraid of the moment,” he said. “My stomach is turning, and they love it. They love these kinds of games as competitor­s. That’s when they feel most alive.”

Not that it necessaril­y is the game of choice, Saturday’s game requiring Jimmy Butler to play beyond the 28-minute limit he had establishe­d amid the decision to play on back-to-back nights for the first time since October, on Saturday night going 33:44, including all five minutes of overtime.

“It’s difficult,” Butler said, “but I think that’s the type of squad that we are. We like to make things difficult, I guess put on a show, I don’t know what you would call it.

“It could be a lot easier. But we take them as they come.”

Part of the issue has been the lack of a knockout punch after pushing to large leads. The converse, though, also has been true, with the Heat having shown a penchant for fighting back into games, including overcoming a 91-81 deficit with 6:41 to play in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s victory.

Largely, it has been a factor of the Heat’s struggles to score, the Heat exiting Saturday’s game last in the NBA at 108.4 points per game, the league’s lone team averaging fewer than 110.

“So many of our games be 98-99,” Adebayo said. “It just shows the grit that we play with. We like to slow the game down and win it in the mud.

“When we get in the playoffs, that’s when you start to really get those 98-99 games. We’ve had how many games decided by five points? So looking at that, we’ve all been comfortabl­e in those situations.”

Through it all, the Heat exited Saturday with the NBA’s ninthbest record, just 1 ½ games behind the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.

“There’s great opportunit­y for us in the East and our plan is to take full advantage of it,” guard Tyler Herro said.

So fight to the finish.

Of games.

And of the season.

“We’re showing a lot of character,” Vincent said. “We’re growing day in and day out. It’s strange how comfortabl­e we are with these close games. It’d be nice to have a blowout every now and then, when we just blow somebody else out.

“We compete, man. We compete. We might get down, but we pick ourselves up, we compete as a team and come together.”

 ?? JOHN RAOUX/AP ?? Living on the edge continues to give the Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra life, with nine of their past 10 games decided by five or fewer points.
JOHN RAOUX/AP Living on the edge continues to give the Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra life, with nine of their past 10 games decided by five or fewer points.

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