Sunday, April 13, 2014
With Pacers' big win, Heat eye rest stop
By Michael Wallace
WASHINGTON -- For the past few weeks, LeBron James has made himself dizzy monitoring the league standings as teams jockey for playoff seeds.
“It’s not finished,” James said entering the final week of the regular season. “I see the standings. I see the teams that are trying to make the postseason or that are out. But I can’t wrap myself around it right now. There are still a couple of games left and the seedings change every day.”
Sorting through the scenarios for James and the Miami Heat is now a very simple process.
The Indiana Pacers’ victory against Oklahoma City on Sunday left the Heat in an improbable position in the race for the No. 1 seed in the East. The Pacers (55-26) can wrap up home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs with a victory in their final regular-season game Wednesday in Orlando. It could be decided Monday if the Heat (54-26) lose to Washington.
Might we see roles reversed, with Dwyane Wade in uniform and LeBron in street clothes?
Anticipating the likelihood of being the No. 2 seed after Sunday’s developments in Indiana, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is expected to shift some primary rotation players into rest mode for Monday’s game and Wednesday’s season finale against Philadelphia.
After playing five games in seven nights, culminating with Saturday’s loss in Atlanta, the Heat were given the day off in Washington on Sunday. Both James and Chris Bosh, who has been in his worst offensive slump of the season in recent weeks, have said they could use some time off before the Heat open their first-round playoff series against either Washington, Charlotte or Atlanta this coming weekend.
The Heat’s rotation has been in flux much of the season, with the team starting 20 different lineups because of injuries or illness. So it comes as no surprise that there continues to be a revolving door with the lineup with two games remaining. The quest for rest from James and Bosh coincides with Dwyane Wade’s impressive return Saturday in Atlanta after missing nine games with a strained left hamstring.
So while Wade, who scored 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting in 23 minutes, hopes to continue to work up a lather heading into the postseason, James and Bosh are looking for a bit of relief while they can get it.
“Some of my teammates, obviously, they look at me and say, ‘You may need to get a couple of games [off], man,” said James, who has played 77 of the Heat’s 80 games this season and typically sat out the final week of the regular season in previous years.
Bosh also acknowledged the burden this season has been. That has especially been the case in April for Bosh, who is averaging 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 turnovers so far in his least productive month of the season. He is shooting below 50 percent from the field for the first time in any month this season, and that number dips to just 25.9 percent from 3-point range in the past seven games.
In the past two games, Bosh has totaled just 21 points and nine rebounds. He didn’t attempt a free throw in two of the past three contests and has committed at least four turnovers in three of the last six.
“It’s been a hell of a grind this year,” Bosh said. “You just have to hang in there and do what you’re supposed to do. It’s been relentless and brutal. You take the wins you can get. When you lose, you just move on. I don’t know, man [about taking games off]. Every time you think you know, something changes. So I’m not going to try to act like I know what’s going on tomorrow or the day after. I’m just going to take it as it goes.”
Considering his recent struggles, Bosh was asked in Atlanta to gauge his level of fatigue from 1 to 10.
“With 10 being like really fatigued? It’s zero. I feel fantastic,” Bosh sarcastically shot back.
The Heat’s chances of claiming the No. 1 seed aren’t that low, but it’s close. The team’s coaches and players know they’ve squandered plenty of opportunities to overtake the Pacers and possibly create some distance between the two in the conference standings. But Wade was among those who refused to look back and nitpick more than a dozen losses this season to teams that had a sub-.500 record.
There were too many issues to address moving forward and not much time to get it done.
“I don’t care about that. I just care about us continuing to come together as a team, continuing to build on the floor,” Wade said of squandered opportunities. “We’re going to play these last two games to win. Our main focus is to make sure we get everybody healthy and everybody into a rhythm going into the playoffs. I want to get to a point where I get [back to normal minutes]. But for now, it will be the same thing moving forward. There will be a minutes restriction. But when I’m in there, make sure I go hard.”
The Heat insist their priorities are in the right place entering the season’s final week.
“I’m not saying we’re not trying,” Bosh said of making one more push for the top seed. “But if you play the games and you come up short, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve been the 2-seed before and got to the Finals. And we’ve been a 1-seed and made it to the Finals. We just have to take it challenge by challenge as it comes.”
Regardless of the seeds, James said all playoff teams are guaranteed at least one thing by week’s end.
“Everyone has life going into the postseason,” James said. “No matter what your regular-season record is, everyone starts zero-zero.”