The Miami Heat welcome a day to ‘decompress’ before facing Boston Celtics’ 5-foot-9 ‘lion’

 

Heat guard Goran Dragic,, in his worst shooting slump of the season, said he welcomed the time Thursday to ‘clear his head.’ (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

MIAMI – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra realizes the value of his players taking a day to decompress and not pick up a basketball.

That is why Friday, a day before Miami was schedule to jet off for a crucial (aren’t they all, now?) three games on the road starting Sunday in Boston, Spoelstra told his players, at least those not requiring treatment, to stay away.

“This is the time of year, everybody is feeling it,” Spoelstra said following Miami’s 101-84 loss to the Raptors Thursday.

“This is the mental toughness that we have to get to. I’m not discounting that guys aren’t feeling it, the weight and the wear and tear of an 82-game basketball season. We’re (72) games into this. But everybody is feeling this way right now. Thankfully, we’ll have a couple days in between. (Friday) is just a rest and relaxation and treatment day. Guys will be able to recharge.”

The Heat (35-37) enter the final 10 games sitting in the eighth – and final playoff – spot in the East, one game ahead of the Pistons and Bulls and 1.5 games behind Milwaukee and Indiana, who are tied for the sixth and seventh spots.

Miami has been in a mental grind for weeks now, ever since turning around its season following an 11-30 start and slowly creeping up in the standings.

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Naturally, the Heat would not have it any other way, not after being buried and holding the second-worst record in the league 9 ½ weeks ago and now playing meaningful games into the final few weeks of the season.

“It’s pressure. … but competitors live for this,” guard Josh Richardson said. “We talk about it every day, how thankful we are to be playing basketball, being in the position that we’re in.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way for these last games of the season to have as much meaning as they do.”

Goran Dragic welcomed the rest as much as anybody. The Heat’s leading scorer is in his worst slump of the season, shooting 33.8 percent (24 of 71) in his last four games, 26.3 percent (5 of 19) on 3 pointers.

Dragic was 5-of-18 and scored 13 points in Thursday’s loss.

“I’m that kind of a guy who has a bad game and I’m thinking too much,” he said. “I’m going to clear my head, spend some time with my family and have a fresh start, reboot myself.”

At 33.4 minutes per game, Dragic, 30, is on pace to play 2,439 minutes. His career high is 2,668 in 2014-15, the year he was traded to the Heat from Phoenix in February.

The Celtics (46-26) entered Friday one game behind Cleveland for the best record in the East. “It’s going to be tough, man. We’re going into the lion’s den in Boston dealing with their 5-8 (actually, 5-9) lion,” center Hassan Whiteside said, referring to the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, who dropped his career high, 52 points, on the Heat Dec, 30, the last time these teams met. He had 29 in the fourth quarter.

The Heat then head to Detroit for the most important game of the season thus far, one that could mean as much as a three-game swing when taking tiebreakers into account.

“These guys want this so bad,” Spoelstra said. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we’ve possibly can to put ourselves in a position to fight for it.

“I want our guys to enjoy this. I don’t feel like we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on and I think we need a day to get away from it, decompress and get back to work on Saturday.”

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