MIAMI – The Heat conclude their second longest home stand of the season this week with games against Phoenix and Toronto before starting a three-game road trip Sunday in Boston.
For Miami, every game is crucial as it attempts to complete this improbable playoff push without Dion Waiters for possibly the rest of the regular season.
Here are three things to watch as the Heat start a week back in the ninth spot but within reach of No. 6.
The backcourt: Josh Richardson stepped in for the injured Waiters in Sunday’s loss to Portland and still looked tentative on offense, scoring 10 points while making half of his eight shots. Waiters’ will miss an extended period as he rehabs his sprained ankle and said Sunday his goal is to return by the end of the regular season. The Heat will need more from Richardson along with Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson. Ellington had nine points and Tyler Johnson 14 on Sunday. The Heat are 6-17 without Waiters in the lineup and will miss his drive and kick game and his defense.
“At the end of the day we miss him,” James Johnson said about Waiters.
Playoff push: With its loss Sunday, Miami squandered an opportunity not only to remain No. 7 in the conference but move within a half game of No. 6 Indiana. Still, the Heat are tied with Detroit for the eight-best record in the conference but out of a top 8 playoff spot by virtue of losing the tiebreaker to the Pistons. Miami is a half-game behind No. 7 Milwaukee and 1.5 games behind No. 6 Indiana.
Hitting the road: The Heat have two three-game trips remaining, the first of which starts Sunday in Boston. Miami then plays what could be its most important road game of the year on March 29, at Detroit. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Miami has been feasting at home, winning 15-of-17 even after Sunday’s loss, while four of its losses since turning around the season in mid-January have been on the road (Philadelphia, Dallas, Orlando, Indiana). Still, Miami is 8-4 on the road since Jan. 25 and it’s ultimate fate when it comes to the playoffs likely will be decided by how it does in six remaining road games.