This was shaping up to the be the week the Miami Heat would be playing out the season, packing their belongings, looking forward to spreading out across the country – and the world – after a long, difficult season.
And it still might be, but not without what is expected to be at least one, and possibly two, very meaningful games at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“This is what we live for, the players, that you want to be in this position,” Goran Dragic said. “You feel alive. It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of nights you don’t sleep because you’re so anxious for the other results or for your game.
“All 12 players in this locker room, we feel the same and that is, we deserve it and we’re going to fight to the end.”
What Dragic believes he and his teammates deserve is a crack at pulling of a playoff upset. First, the 39-41 Heat must get there.
Miami may have saved its season with a 106-103 win in Washington Saturday. But, the Heat still needs help to complete this stunning turnaround. Miami is tied with Chicago for the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls, though, owning the eighth, and final, playoff spot by virtue the tie-breaker.
Indiana is one game against of both teams and in the seventh spot. But because the Heat have the tie-breaker over the Pacers, they are essentially one game behind both.
So, if Miami goes 2-0 in their game against Cleveland on Monday and Washington on Wednesday, it needs Chicago or Indiana to go 1-1 in its final two games to sneak into the postseason.
“What do you want as a pro athlete? Do you want a life more ordinary?” coach Erik Spoelstra asked. “These guys in the locker room right now feel alive. You can’t pay enough money to feel like that.”
And while many believe the Heat’s task to be daunting facing two of the top four teams in the East while the Bulls and Pacers have much easier games, on paper, consider this:
Miami is 5-1 against Cleveland (2-1) and Washington (3-0).
So, would the die-hard Heat fan rather they be playing the 76ers and Magic, two of the three worst teams in the league against whom the Heat are 3-5?
One thing is certain. … for players it does not matter.
“We’re excited but our job’s not done,” said James Johnson, whose spinning, finger roll with 11.9 seconds to play provided the game winning points at Washington on Saturday.
“We’re not worried about the standings we’re worried the next two games and taking care of that. However the chips fall after we take care of what we can take of we can live with.”
In or out, this season will be remembered as one that was special. The Heat were dead in mid-January. … at least in the standings where they had the second-worst record in the league. All the talk was about a top three draft pick at worst and possibly having the first crack at one of the supposed franchise-altering freshmen coming out.
Since, Miami has gone 28-11. What is astounding is if Miami wins its final two games it will have season splits of 11-30 and 30-11.
Guard Wayne Ellington was asked after the win at Washington if he could have ever envisioned going home for two games that would have such meaning.
At 11-30? No,” he said. “But we knew were going to continue to work hard. We were going to continue to stick together and we were going to continue to have each other’s backs.
“We didn’t know what the outcome was going to be but we knew that we were going to continue to do that, for sure.”