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Heat can wrap up playoff spot by beating Nets

By
Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange
Miami Heat forward Josh Richardson (0) scores over Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) in the first half on March 6 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mark Goldman/UPI
Miami Heat forward Josh Richardson (0) scores over Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) in the first half on March 6 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mark Goldman/UPI | License Photo

The Miami Heat's schedule, at the moment at least, is as soft as a wet sponge ... or marshmallows ... or Drake's music.

Here's why: Starting with Thursday's win over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, the Heat (41-35) have a five-game stretch against four clubs (the Atlanta Hawks twice) that all have losing records. These are four of the five worst teams in the Eastern Conference.

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Saturday's "test" will be against the Brooklyn Nets (24-51). Granted, the Nets are playing better of late, going 3-3 in their past six games, including a 111-104 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

But these are still the Nets, who are 10-26 on the road this season.

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On Saturday, the Nets will face a Miami team that has won eight straight home games. A Heat victory on Saturday would clinch a playoff berth, and Miami has made the postseason 19 times in the past 29 years.

"I want the playoffs to start right away," Heat point guard Goran Dragic told the media. "But first, we need to take care of business and be professional."

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The Heat seemed to be getting healthier on Thursday, welcoming back starting center Hassan Whiteside, who had missed nine games due to a hip injury. He produced eight points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes.

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In addition, Miami's backup center, Bam Adebayo, returned to the rotation and produced three points in 12 minutes.

But Heat starting shooting guard Tyler Johnson sprained his right ankle in the first half. He finished with six points in 12 minutes and there was no immediate word on his availability for Saturday.

If Johnson is forced out of the lineup, the Heat can turn to several other options at shooting guard, including Wayne Ellington and Dwyane Wade. In addition, small forward Josh Richardson could slide to the guard spot.

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Brooklyn's only questionable player for Saturday due to injury is reserve point guard Isaiah Whitehead, who has a wrist injury but has averaged just 11 minutes in 16 games this season.

The Nets on Wednesday started D'Angelo Russell at point guard, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the wings and Jarrett Allen in the post.

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Brooklyn's bench, currently led by Dante Cunningham, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris, has been outstanding all season. They are averaging 43.7 points, which ranks second in the NBA.

The Nets put seven players in double figures in the win over Orlando, led by Russell and LeVert with 16 points apiece. The reserves combined for 39 points.

Russell, who had a game-high 12 assists to go with his 16 points and five rebounds on Wednesday, believes Brooklyn is on the upswing.

"We're going to be in the playoffs sooner rather than later," Russell told the media after the Magic game. "It's sad that (it's taken this long to) figure things out. But the past few games, when everyone is making an effort to do what they do best, we're a good team."

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