Heat say ‘no tanks;’ Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, James Johnson all playing tonight vs. Knicks

Miami’s James Johnson and Goran Dragic, along with Dwyane Wade, plan to return for tonight’s game at the Knicks after sitting one game because of injuries. (AP Photo/Veronica Dominach)

NEW YORK – So much for the Miami Heat trying to avoid the sixth seed and a possible playoff showdown with Cleveland.

Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and James Johnson all will return to the Heat (43-36) lineup tonight against the Knicks (27-51) after each took off Wednesday in Atlanta to rest various ailments. Many believe the Heat would be better trying to fall out of the sixth spot and slip to seventh where they would face Boston, which will be be without All-Star Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart.

But not the Heat.

“We still have something to play for,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s why everybody is playing tonight.”

The Heat secured a playoff spot with their win over Atlanta on Tuesday and since have been playing for seeding. Miami is No. 6, one game ahead of both Washington and Milwaukee and have all tiebreakers against both teams.

Wade (right elbow, left wrist), Dragic (left knee, left ankle) and Johnson (left ankle) had two days to rest and heal with the Heat being off Thursday.  Each of their injuries are bothersome but none are serious with each player saying they would have been on the court if the game was meaningful.

Wade was asked if the break helped.

“A little bit,” he said. “Not as much as I wanted to.”

So why is he playing tonight?

“I want to get out there,” he said. “You look around, everyone’s dealing with something this time of the year. If Goran can get out there and play, anybody can get out there and play. Goran goes through a lot. If Goran’s suiting up then I’m suiting up.”

Dragic was asked if the rest helped and if it was necessary.

“I’m good,” said. “It wasn’t necessary. It’s always nice to have a day off, but at the same time if that was a game we needed or was important I would definitely have played.”

Neither player said he is 100 percent, but both said nobody is at this time of the season. As for Wade, the right elbow pain is something that he will live with after fracturing it last March and left wrist bothers him but he can live with it.

“With my elbow, it’s something I had to deal with off and on since it happened,” Wade said. “But I don’t whine about it I just go out there and some nights it’s not feeling the way I need it to feel. But that’s a part of the fracture that I had and that a part of the things the doctor said I might have to deal with over the course, etc. so.”

As for the wrist: “This, I’m not really concerned with. If I fall on it, yeah, it’s going to be sore. ”

Johnson believes he’s as good now as he has been all season.

“I feel good,” he said. “No aches. I was really mentally locked in (at today’s shootaround).

“I’m in great shape. I’ve been lifting everyday. I think its at the best possible place it could be going into these playoffs.”

[Heat mailbag: Is it dangerous for teams to jockey to face Boston in first round? Heat avenues to improve this summer]

[Health, not seeding, is most important for Heat entering playoffs, no matter the opponent]

[Everybody in Miami Heat locker room is rooting for Rodney McGruder]

[What is Kelly Olynyk’s secret weapon when it comes to success? The answer may surprise you]

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Health, not seeding, is most important for Heat entering playoffs, no matter the opponent

Atlanta Hawks guard Tyler Dorsey tries to get through the defense of Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington and forward Josh Richardson during the Heat’s victory Wednesday in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

NEW YORK – Good to see the Miami Heat have their priorities in order.

The Heat showed they are taking no chances over the final week of the season when they sat Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and James Johnson for Wednesday’s semi-meaningless game in Atlanta. While all three are banged up and certainly can used the rest, if this were the postseason, they all would have been on the court.

But it isn’t, at least not yet. And while Miami knows playoffs seedings have yet to be established, what’s important is it knows it will be among those eight teams in the Eastern Conference tipping off next weekend.

Miami is good with that, no matter the seed. And it should be.

Erik Spoelstra is finding it difficult to say he is prioritizing health over seeding. But he shouldn’t. He insists he is not “resting” players, but rather being smart about making sure his team  is as healthy as possible when the Heat open their 20th postseason in franchise history in just more than a week in Cleveland or Philadelphia or Boston or Toronto.

“We’re not going to shut this thing down,” Spoelstra said after the Heat easily handled the woeful Hawks Wednesday. “We’re not in that position right now. We’re still playing for something. We’re going to be mindful of guys that are dealing with something. That’s why we were proactive with Dwyane and JJ.

“But we intend on playing it out. We can’t control what the other teams can do, but we want to continue to play and compete and be ready.”

Good answer. We’re not completely dismissing the game ahead but we’re being mindful of what is coming beyond those games.

And this has nothing to do with competing. We saw that at the highest level on Wednesday when the Heat played as if they had the weight of the season lifted from their shoulders 24 hours earlier after sewing up a playoff spot. Missing two starters and a future Hall of Famer did not matter to the group that was out there.

Spoelstra is walking that fine line between “being smart” and “playing it out.” But if one of his players approaches him and says he needs a break, or just would like to take a night off to make sure his legs are at their peak for the playoffs, he will listen.

Entering the playoffs with 43 wins or 44 or 45 or 46 will not matter, especially when any number could draw any of the aforementioned teams.

The Heat – who remain in the mix for every seed from No. 5 (the more remote) to No. 8 – would love to pick their opponent, as would several other teams, especially considering the news out of Boston today and Philadelphia last week.

The Celtics, who are virtually locked into the No. 2 seed and will face No. 7,  have lost All-Star Kyrie Irving for the rest of the season and playoffs after he underwent knee surgery. They also will be without fellow guard Marcus Smart. Philadelphia, still in the hunt for the third spot, is the greenest of teams when it comes to playoff experience and now is facing that challenge possibly at without All-Star center Joel Embiid, who is recovering from surgery to repair a facial fracture.

Playing the seeding game and trying to create a certain matchup is dangerous. Several players are saying, at least publicly, they do not want to temp the “basketball gods” by wishing for a certain opponent and would rather just play out the season and see where they fall.

“I don’t mess with basketball gods,” Goran Dragic said. “We just need to play and be ready. You need to win against the best teams in this league so it doesn’t matter if you get them in the first or second (round).”

So if Wade or Dragic or Johnson believe he would benefit from skipping Friday’s game against the Knicks in New York, go for it. If Tyler Johnson wants to get his ankle right or Hassan Whiteside needs more rest for his hip, take a seat.

After all, winning, right now, is not the most important thing. None of it will matter a week from now. The only thing that will matter is that the Heat are healthy and confident they can pull off a first-round upset.

[Everybody in Miami Heat locker room is rooting for Rodney McGruder]

[What is Kelly Olynyk’s secret weapon when it comes to success? The answer may surprise you]

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Five takeaways: Shorthanded Heat have much easier time with Hawks on the road than they did at home

Atlanta Hawks guard Tyler Dorsey tries to get past Miami Heat forward Kelly Olynyk during the first half of Wednesday’s game in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

ATLANTA – Securing a spot in the playoffs means the Heat will play the final week of the regular season with one-eye on the postseason.

The Heat were without Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and James Johnson for their 115-86 victory over the Hawks Wednesday at Phillips Arena. All three players are nursing injuries, none of which are serious but bothersome enough to give them at least a couple of days off with the postseason 10 days away.

But it did not matter as the Heat shook off an early eight point deficit with a 17-2 run and never trailed in the second half in their widest margin of victory of the season, topping the 27-point win over Washington last month.

“Our guys really want to work our game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And regardless of who we had in or who was out, the guys that didn’t have a chance to play every single game really wanted to prove themselves and prove that they can hold their own within our game and there wouldn’t be a different, whether those guys were out there or whether Goran, Dwyane  and JJ were out there, and that’ what you want.”

The Heat (43-36) have three games remaining and continue to hold onto the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, one-half game ahead of Washington and Milwaukee. Miami also has clinched all two-way and the three-way tiebreakers over the Wizards and Bucks.

Wade (right elbow, left wrist), Dragic (left knee, left ankle) and Johnson (left ankle) would have played had this been a meaningful game. But with the playoffs starting next weekend, the Heat will not hesitate to sit any player who feels he needs time to heal. All three are looking forward to a couple of days rest and although all said they expect to play Friday in New York. But if any of them needs more time they will sit out that game, too.

Kelly Olynyk and Josh Richardson led the Heat with 19 points each. Olynyk was 5 of 7 on 3 pointers. Justise Winslow had a season high 18 points. His 16 field goal attempts also are a season high. He made six.

The Hawks shot 36.7 percent.

Here are our five takeaways:

No Dragic, no Wade, no JJ … no problem: At least against the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Unlike the previous night when the Heat needed an 11-0 run to end the game and escape with a 101-98 victory over the Hawks in Miami, Wednesday was much different in Atlanta. The Heat got solid contributions from Olynyk, Richardson, Winslow, Rodney McGruder (14 points), Wayne Ellington (11 points) and Hassan Whiteside, who finished with just four points but dominated the middle with 13 rebounds and three blocks.

“Different guys stepped up in different moments,” Winslow said. “KO was huge for us in the first half and multiple guys in the second. It’s nice that the game wasn’t close like last night and we got the win.”

All ties go to the Heat: Miami has clinched all tiebreakers with Milwaukee and Washington. The Heat have the tiebreaker with Milwaukee because of their 3-0 record in the season series and Miami now has secured the two-way tiebreaker with the Wizards. Because the Heat and Wizards split their four-game season series, the next tie-breaker is each’s record within the Southeast Division. Miami now has 11 division wins and most Washington can get to is 10. By winning the Southeast Division, the Heat also clinch finished ahead of Washington and Milwaukee in a three-way tie.

Feeling like a million bucks … on and off the court: Kelly Olynyk needed to play just two minutes to reach his $1 million bonus and that came in the first quarter. So, how did Olynyk celebrate? By making five consecutive 3-point shots in the second quarter to key a 17-2 Heat run.

“It felt good,” Olynyk said about his shooting. “I was kind of in the zone. It felt like whatever I threw up was going to go in.”

Olynyk’s bonus kicked in if he played 1,700 minutes this season. He entered Tuesday’s game with 1,698 minutes, which already exceeded his career high of 1,538 minutes in 2016-17 while with the Celtics. Olynyk signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Heat in July. He will earn $11.6 million this season.

“It’s a big night for him,” Spoelstra said. “But dinner, drinks, all of that is on him when we get to New York. I’m going to see if I can get ticket to a play, bill his account.”

Record setting season: Ellington’s third three, which came early in the forth quarter, established an NBA record for 3-pointers off the bench with 207, breaking Eric Gordon’s mark of 206 set last season with the Rockets. Ellington now is honing in the Heat record for threes in a season. With 216 threes overall, he is 10 shy of breaking Damon Jones’ team record of 225 set in the 2004-05 season. Ellington said he knew nothing about the record.

“I had no idea,” he said. “That’s a great accomplishment to set any record, any NBA record. I’m thankful, I’m appreciative. Like I always say I’ve got to thank my coaches and my teammates first and foremost. Without those guys I wouldn’t be sitting here having that conversation with you guys. So I’m appreciative of that.”

End of the road: The Heat play their final road game of the regular season Thursday in New York before finishing up the season with home games against Oklahoma City and Toronto. Miami is 18-22 away from home after Wednesday’s victory and needs a victory at the Knicks to finish one game better than last season’s 18-23 road record. Miami entered Wednesday’s game having dropped 11-of-12 on the road, 1o of those losses by six points or less, the other by 16 at Portland.  Establishing come kind of road continuity, even against sub-.500 teams, is important considering Miami will be starting the playoffs on the road.

“We’ve got three more games left man in the regular season,” Ellington said. “Let’s finish off strong and see what happens.”

[With three key players dealing with injury issues, Heat being ‘smart’ after securing playoff spot]

[Playoff experience? Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem have a lot of it. Rest of Heat? Not so much]

[With spot secure, we take a look at the Heat’s possible (and preferred) first-round matchups]

[When do Heat playoff tickets go on sale? All of the information you need to know]

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With three key players dealing with injury issues, Heat being ‘smart’ after securing playoff spot

Miami Heat athletic trainer Jay Sabol works with guard Dwyane Wade after Wade hit the floor during overtime against the Brooklyn Nets at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday. (David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)

ATLANTA – The reward for clinching a playoff spot with a week remaining in the season: Ailing players can rest.

The Heat will sit Dwyane Wade (right elbow, left wrist), Goran Dragic (left knee, left ankle) and James Johnson (left ankle) for tonight’s rematch against the Hawks. All three are dealing with injuries but none severe enough that it would prevent them from playing if this were, say, the playoffs.

“Each one of these injuries, whenever they happen and the next day is go time,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “These guys, they understood what was at stake. So, everybody was just green-lighting and going forward, regardless of how they felt.

“Right now, we think it’s smart just to take a day, get treatment and reevaluate.”

The Heat (42-36) secured a playoff spot with a 101-98 home victory over the Hawks on Tuesday. Miami remains in a three-way tie with Washington and Milwaukee for the 6-8 spots but are seeded sixth entering tonight because of tiebreakers.

All three players said they expect to play Friday in New York.

“Right now, we’re not shutting everybody down,” Spoelstra said. “That’s not the thought of this at all. It’s we want to clear these things up and it might be cleared up so all of them can go on Friday. But we’ll see how the next two days go.”

The injuries forced Spoelstra to roll out his 24th different starting lineup: Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Luke Babbitt and Hassan Whiteside.

Wade’s injuries occurred during Saturday’s overtime loss to Brooklyn. He landed hard on his wrist late in the overtime and banged the elbow earlier in the game. Wade fractured the same elbow last March while playing for Chicago.

“(Tuesday) was just a game we needed to win,” Wade said. “I think everybody trying to just play through whatever your feeling and got a chance to get that clinched. Tonight, having a quick turnaround, get an opportunity to rest it.”

Dragic said he’s been dealing with tendinitis in the knee, which flared up about three weeks ago. He twisted his ankle on Tuesday.

When asked if he would be playing if this was a meaningful game, Dragic said: “Definitely.”

Johnson said his ankle has been an issue for awhile.

“Just been playing through it,” he said. “If you can you must, that mentality. Just been playing through it and today it hurts. I got treatment on it and I’ll get ready for New York.”

Johnson missed six games earlier this season with bursitis in his right ankle.

For the Heat, the goal is getting healthy for the playoffs, which start April 14, 15.

“In the playoffs, every player we want them to be healthy so we can compete at the highest level,” Dragic said. “I think it’s important.”

Still, the Heat are not dismissing their chances to finish sixth, even if their first-round opponent is Cleveland.

“We want to make noise in the playoffs,” Johnson said. “We’re definitely not satisfied with where we’re at.”

[Playoff experience? Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem have a lot of it. Rest of Heat? Not so much]

[When do Heat playoff tickets go on sale? All of the information you need to know]

[Want more Heat news sent directly to your Facebook feed? Make sure to like our Heat Facebook page]

What to know about tonight’s game: A day after clinching playoff spot, Heat travel to face Hawks again

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic, left, drives past Atlanta Hawks guard Tyler Dorsey during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 3, 2018, in Miami. The Heat won 101-98. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI HEAT AT ATLANTA HAWKS

When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta

TV/Radio: Fox Sports Sun/WAXY 790AM, WRTO 98.3 FM (Spanish)

Records: Miami 42-36, Atlanta 22-56

Line: Miami favored by 8.5 points

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS

Heat

F: James Johnson

F: Josh Richardson

C: Hassan Whiteside

G: Tyler Johnson

G: Goran Dragic

Hawks

F: Taurean Prince

F: John Collins

C: Miles Plumlee

G: Damion Lee

G: Isaiah Taylor

Scouting report: Miami will be without Dion Waiters (left ankle surgery). … Atlanta is expected to be without Kent Bazemore (right knee bone bruise), Malcolm Delaney (left ankle sprain), Jaylen Morris (left ankle sprain) and Dennis Schröder (left ankle sprain, bone bruise). … The Hawks own the worst record in the Eastern Conference and are 2-12 over their past 14 games. … Atlanta has eight rookies on its roster, led by former Cardinal Newman High standout John Collins. Collins is averaging 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds this season. … The Heat have posted a 12-8 record since the All-Star break, with five of those losses coming in overtime. … Since Dwyane Wade was traded to the Heat on Feb. 8, Miami’s bench has averaged a league-high 47.2 points per game. … Heat center Kelly Olynyk is two minutes and 21 seconds away from earning his $1 million bonus for playing at least 1,700 minutes during the regular season. … Miami, which clinched a playoff spot Tuesday, enters Wednesday in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. … The Heat have won two of their three matchups with the Hawks this season, including Tuesday’s 101-98 win in Miami.

[Five takeaways: Heat clinch playoff spot, move up to sixth in East with comeback win over Hawks]

[A look at the rotation Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is expected to stick with for the playoffs]

[No foul on Dwyane Wade’s final shot Saturday? Heat move on after Last Two Minute report]

[Want more Heat news sent directly to your Facebook feed? Make sure to like our Heat Facebook page]

Heat center Hassan Whiteside feels ‘a lot better’ after being allowed to shed knee brace

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside grabs a defensive rebound in front of Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez during the first half of the Heat’s victory Thursday in Miami. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

MIAMI – Hassan Whiteside could not wait to shed the brace he has worn on his left knee for the last three months.

So, when he took the court on Thursday for Miami’s game against the Bulls, he felt like a new man.

“I finally got it off so I feel a lot better,” Whiteside said. “I feel I can jump higher. My athleticism is a lot (better).”

Whiteside started wearing the brace in December, after missing 13 games with a second bruise on his left knee. He removed the brace during a game in Orlando in late December, saying he did not believe it was helping and that it was “extremely uncomfortable.” The organization was not happy and told him he was required to play with it until they decided it was time to come off.

That time was Thursday, the day Whiteside returned after sitting nine games because of a strained left hip flexor.

The decision was made by team doctors.

Now, Whiteside is working on regaining his conditioning before the playoffs begin in two weeks. He played 19 minutes during the win over Chicago, scoring eight points and adding seven rebounds, two blocks and four assists, which equaled his career high.

“Just slowly coming back and getting back into it,” Whiteside said today after the Heat’s shootaround in preparation for tonight’s game against the Nets.

“He looked pretty good,” Justise Winslow said after the Bulls game. “He was a little gassed but Whitey is going to be Whitey. He’s going to get to the basket, roll hard, get rebounds. He missed a couple of jumpers but he hasn’t played in awhile. I liked his play.”

Whiteside, who did bike and elliptical work while injured, believes he’ll be ready for the postseason.

“I don’t think I got that far behind on conditioning,” he said.

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[After two days of rehab, Heat’s Tyler Johnson will play tonight against Nets]

[Here’s how Heat can clinch a playoff spot on Saturday, plus a look at where they stand in East standings]

[Want more Heat news sent directly to your Facebook feed? Make sure to like our Heat Facebook page]

 

After two days of rehab, Heat’s Tyler Johnson will play tonight against Nets

Miami’s Tyler Johnson reacts during a recent game against the Wizards in Washington.(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

MIAMI – Tyler Johnson was upset the Heat held him out of the second half Thursday against the Bulls after rolling his right ankle earlier in the game.

Johnson will be a lot happier tonight when he is in the lineup tonight against the Nets. Johnson is ready to go after two days of rest and rehabilitation.

“He’s going,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after the Heat’s shootaround. “He’s mad at us that he didn’t get to finish in the second half. The way this season has gone that was the no-brainer of no-brainers. Have a seat, do some treatment.”

“The reality is the play looked very similar to the one in Chicago (in January) and we wanted to have a little bit of discretion and at least observe him and see how it felt the next day without having to re-aggravate it in the second half. I still believe it was the right move.He’s ready to go. Two good days of work.”

Johnson sprained his ankle midway through the second quarter when he cut to the basket, took the pass from James Johnson, challenged Bulls center Robin Lopez while making the layup and then landed on Lopez’s right foot.

A hobbled Johnson came out about four minutes later. He then went to the locker room before the half ended and did not return. Johnson had six points, making half of his six shots.

“It was one of those situations where it was sore and I think it was more of a precaution to protect me from myself especially with my past, they didn’t want me to push it way too hard,” Johnson said. “I felt like that was a game we had control of so it was just precaution and protecting me from myself.”

Johnson, who has started 66 games this season, the last 11 in a row, said he didn’t even think about the ankle during today’s shootaround. “Right now it’s not that bad,” he said. He missed five games earlier when Lopez landed on his left foot stretching ligaments in his ankle and Achilles during a game in Chicago two and half months ago.

“The other one was unique because it turned in the opposite way,” Johnson said. “The severity of it, it’s gonna take a little bit longer because usually those ligaments are never stretched that way. This one was just traditional, whatever, turned it over, turned right back. It was taped so it wasn’t that bad.”

The Heat (41-35) can clinch a playoff spot tonight with a victory against the Nets (24-51) or a Detroit loss at New York.

[Here’s how Heat can clinch a playoff spot on Saturday, plus a look at where they stand in East standings]

[Heat measuring up defensively, join impressive group of league’s top teams in one category]

[Heat center Hassan Whiteside tries to keep up pace after missing nine games]

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UPDATED: Heat’s Tyler Johnson ‘probable’ after missing second half Thursday with sprained right ankle

New York Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay knocks the ball away from Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson during a game on March 21 in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

MIAMI – Tyler Johnson just needs to stay away from Bulls center Robin Lopez.

For the second time this season, the Heat guard suffered an ankle injury while being tangled up with Lopez. Johnson rolled his right ankle midway through the second quarter of Miami’s victory Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena when he landed on Lopez. He left the game soon after and did not return.

On Jan. 15 in Chicago, Lopez landed on the back of Johnson’s left leg straining ligaments in his ankle and Achilles. Johnson missed five games.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is hopeful this injury is not as bad as Johnson’s previous run in with Lopez and it appears it isn’t.

The Heat (41-35) are listing Johnson as ‘probable’ for Saturday’s home game against the Nets (24-51).

“It looked similar to the one in Chicago with Lopez but it wasn’t at least as we know right now,” Spoelstra said. “Initially it wasn’t as bad as that one.”

The 6-foot-4 Johnson was injured when he challenged the 7-foot Lopez at the rim after a back-door cut. He took the pass from James Johnson and scored on the layup before his right foot landed on Lopez’s right foot.

A hobbled Johnson came out about four minutes later. He then went to the locker room before the half ended and did not return. Johnson had six points, making half of his six shots.

“He did treatment the entire second half,” Spoelstra said. “We didn’t want to risk anything in the second half. He wanted to play, but (trainer Jay Sabol) said it’s best just to hold him and re-evaluate (Friday).”

Spoelstra said Johnson left the arena “without a limp.”

Rodney McGruder started in place of Johnson in the second half and finished with five points and three rebounds, all coming in the third quarter. McGruder has played 14 games this season, missing the first 60 after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia.

McGruder, who started 65 games last season at small forward, likely would start for Johnson if he had to miss any time. He and Josh Richardson would play the wings.

Dwyane Wade, who has found a comfort level coming off the bench, could see an increase in minutes also.

“I’m comfortable with that,” said Wade, who is averaging 22.2 minutes in 16 games with the Heat this season.

Wade said Spoelstra is being “smart” managing his minutes.

“It’s just something in the regular season he just wants to keep my minutes around 23,” Wade said. “But I definitely can play more when need be.”

Wade cited a couple of overtime games in which he was called upon for extra duty and played more than 26 minutes in each.

Johnson has had several nagging issues this season that have forced him to miss 10 games. In addition to the left ankle injury he sat out two games with a left quad contusion and one game each because of a neck spasm, migraine headache and illness.

Johnson skipped Thursday’s shootaround because of a migraine, as did Wade.

“If you play hard those injuries can happen,” Goran Dragic said. “Tyler, he’s a tough player. He’s playing through a lot of contact, too. So sometimes those things are going to happen. You know our philosophy is next man and just try to make the plays. Hopefully it’s nothing serious and he’s going to be ready for the playoffs.”

[Heat measuring up defensively, join impressive group of league’s top teams in one category]

[Playoff update: Where do No. 7 Heat stand in tiebreakers with No. 8 Bucks, No. 6 Wizards?]

[Heat center Hassan Whiteside tries to keep up pace after missing nine games]

[What were those colorful shoes Dwyane Wade wore in Tuesday’s win over Cavaliers? Wade explains]

[The backstory behind the name: Santiago Ray Spoelstra]

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Heat center Hassan Whiteside tries to keep up pace after missing nine games

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside grabs a defensive rebound in front of Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez during the first half of the Heat’s victory Thursday in Miami. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

MIAMI – Hassan Whiteside returned to a slightly different team after missing nine games.

The Heat were averaging 102.0 points per game when Whiteside strained his left hip flexor during shootaround on March 10. During the nine games Whiteside missed, that average spiked to 112.3 per game, with Miami looking as comfortable as it has all season playing at a quicker pace.

Whiteside, who played 19:28 on Thursday, must have felt like was returning to a different team.

“Those guy were flying around,” said the 7-foot center. “But it took me awhile to get acclimated. My wind felt straight, it’s just those guys were moving around. It’s just getting back used to it, getting back into a rhythm of just making shots, just that aspect of it.

“I felt good but I haven’t touched a ball in about three weeks. I made a couple of shots. I missed a couple. Just get back into the rhythm, knock the rust off, get back to playing well.”

Whiteside finished eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks during Miami’s 103-92 victory over the Bulls. Although coach Erik Spoelstra said his big man’s conditioning “was a little bit better than I anticipated,” Whiteside did appear to be a bit gassed at one point in the second quarter.

“He’s been doing a lot of work behind the scenes and I thought he was able to play with the pace that we’re playing at,” Spoelstra said. “He had four assists. … So we were able to play some offense through him. He made some nice easy plays on handoffs. It’s just good to have him back out there. He clearly gives us something different.”

Whiteside’s assists equaled a season and career high, which he set Dec. 30 in Orlando.

“I was just trying to play-make and get them guys going because I wasn’t making shots,” he said. “Passes always look good when they make them.”

Spoelstra immediately inserted Whiteside back into the starting lineup, a spot that Bam Adebayo held for the first eight games Whiteside missed before Jordan Mickey made a rare start Tuesday against Cleveland with Adebayo nursing a sprained ankle.

A big reason is to get Whiteside used to playing at the faster pace. Including Thursday, he will have just seven games before the playoffs start.

“Spo told me ‘G, run, run make sure Whiteside runs with you,’” point guard Goran Dragic said. “So, I was kind of trying to push it a little bit. H, he was running with us. Of course, he was a little bit tired. He didn’t play for a while. But you know it’s nice to have him back and he’s going to continue to get better physically and we need him.”

Whether that pace continues when the playoffs start in two weeks remain to be seen. Typically the game slows down in the postseason, becomes more physical. Either way, the Heat will need Whiteside at his best, especially defensively where he can protect the rim and block shots, if they want to advance.

“I thought he was very aggressive,” Dwyane Wade said. “He had his shots, he ran up and down the floor a lot. He did great screening to get our guards where they needed to get to. I like the energy he played with.

“When he plays a few more games, he’s going to get that rhythm back where he can do more things offensively. He can get a little bit more explosion back. So, it’s good to get him back.”

[What were those colorful shoes Dwyane Wade wore in Tuesday’s win over Cavaliers? Wade explains]

[The backstory behind the name: Santiago Ray Spoelstra]

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Five takeaways: Heat defeat undermanned Bulls, but playoff clincher will have to wait

Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson and forward Justise Winslow block a shot by Chicago Bulls forward Bobby Portis during the first half of Thursday’s game. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

MIAMI – The celebration will have to wait at least one more game.

The Miami Heat took care of their business Thursday, disposing of the pesky Bulls, 103-92, at AmericanAirlines Arena, but with Detroit defeating Washington, the Heat were unable to clinch a playoff spot.

With the magic number down to 1, that playoff clincher could come Saturday with a Heat victory over Brooklyn or a Pistons loss at the Knicks. Miami (41-35) has equaled its win total from last season with six games remaining.

Josh Richardson led Miami with 22 points and Goran Dragic added 17. The Heat held the Bulls to .367 shooting, including .231 on threes.

“I think we’ve started communicating a lot better lately,” Richardson said about the defense. “We were having a lot of mess ups earlier, two guys on the same person and not doing the right assignments. We’re just talking ourselves out of bad situations. That’s definitely took our defense to another level.”

The Heat were back at full strength for the start of the game, but then lost Tyler Johnson, who left late in the second quarter after spraining his right ankle and did not return. The Bulls (24-51) were without six players, including three starters – Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. Starting center Robin Lopez was ejected with 8:43 to play.

Chicago has lost seven straight games.

Here are our five takeaways:

Playoff clincher on hold: Detroit’s victory over Washington forces the Heat to wait at least a couple of days before clinching a playoff spot. Miami remains seventh in the East, 5.5 games ahead of the Pistons, but climb to within a half game of No. 6 Washington. The Wizards still have games remaining at Houston and Cleveland and against the Celtics at home. Miami’s only remaining games against winning teams are both at home, against OKC and Toronto.

“We’re trying to win every game, that’s what this organization is about,” said Justise Winslow, who scored 13 points. “We’re not too focused on who our opponent is going to be but we we’re trying to win every game almost like college try to get hot at the right time and go from there.”

Two man show: The Heat appeared to be going through the motions for the first three quarters, unable to shake the undermanned Bulls until the fourth quarter. Miami built an 11-point lead in the second quarter but the Bulls got the deficit down to three early in the third quarter. Miami started pulling away late in the third quarter, led by 10 entering the fourth and opened the final 12 minutes on a 13-4 run to push the lead to 19 points. Dragic and Richardson had 30 of the Heat’s 78 points after three quarters, combining to shoot 11-of-21 from the floor. The rest of the team were a combined 18 of 45.

“I actually liked the way our guys competed,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You play a team that’s just in a different place than you are, those can be dangerous games because you get tempted into thinking there’s going to be a knockout punch early. You have to expect every game in this league to be a 48-minute game where you’re required to compete and play at a high level. Any time you start to think otherwise or try to shortcut that process, you end up getting bit in the rear. ”

Big fella is back: Hassan Whiteside returned Thursday after missing nine games because of a  strained left hip flexor. He immediately was inserted into the starting lineup and was active early with four points, five rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot in the first six minutes. Whiteside finished with eight points, seven rebounds, two blocks and four assists, which equals his career high. He played 19:28. Whiteside has missed 28 games total this season. Miami is 14-14 in those games.

“His conditioning was a little bit better than I anticipated,” Spoelstra said. “But he’s been doing a lot of work behind the scenes and I thought he was able to play with the pace that we’re playing at. He had four assists. … So we were able to play some offense through him. He made some nice easy plays on handoffs. It’s just good to have him back out there. He clearly gives us something different.”

Home dominance: The Heat have become a very good team at home. Miami now has won 11 of 12 at AmericanAirlines Arena, including a season-high eight in a row. Those wins have come by an average of 14.4 points. The Heat are 24-14 at home after starting the season 3-5. Miami was 23-18 at home last season.

“Trying to give our fans a show definitely has helped,” said Justise Winslow, who scored 13 points. “Getting D-Wade back, he brought a lot of energy to the arena. I think especially us young guys, we’re feeding off that energy that the crowd is bringing.”

Injury bug hits again: For the second time this season on a night the Heat started with their full complement of players (minus Dion Waiters)  one was injured during the game. Johnson landed awkwardly on his right ankle during the second quarter and although he remained in the game for several minutes he returned to the locker room before halftime and was ruled out for the second half with a sprained ankle. Johnson has missed 14 games this season because of various injuries, including a left ankle injury he suffered against the Bulls in January that kept him out six games. Rodney McGruder took Johnson’s spot in the starting lineup for the second half. Spoelstra said Johnson wanted to play the second half but the Heat were not going to risk it and had him doing treatment during that time.

“He was able to walk out of here without a limp,” Spoelstra said.

[What were those colorful shoes Dwyane Wade wore in Tuesday’s win over Cavaliers? Wade explains]

[Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo on track to return tonight vs. Bulls, Dwyane Wade dealing with migraine]

[Heat can clinch playoff spot Thursday. Here’s how …]

[The backstory behind the name: Santiago Ray Spoelstra]

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