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Ira Winderman: Heat again at crossroads of contention or survival, of playoffs or play-in

Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

MIAMI — The respect is that of a championship contender.

The place in the standings is that of a survivalist.

For the Miami Heat, the dichotomy lives on, once again viewed as something more than the standings indicate amid this scramble to avoid the play-in round.

No sooner, for example, did the Heat complete one of their most impressive victories of the season this past Monday at Golden 1 Center, then Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox paused to pay homage to the Heat’s perseverance.

“It’s like a running joke,” Fox said. “Regardless of who Miami puts out there, it looks like that’s a team that played in the Finals or played together for a while.”

That, of course, was the night the Heat were without Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Nikola Jovic, among others.

 

“They have guys who do their job and they have guys who come out, regardless of how long they’ve been with the team, they play hard. So it’s just their continuity. They play hard. They understand what they need to do.”

Three days later, after surviving a furious late Heat rally to hold for victory at Ball Arena in a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic took stock of the night’s challenge.

“They play with a lot of speed and poise on both ends of the floor. They’re really aggressive,” the two-time MVP and MVP of last year’s Finals said. “They know what they’re doing and it’s hard to play against that team.”

And yet with that loss, the Heat fell to No. 8 in the East, into the play-in bracket, the portion of the postseason mix where one or two losses mean an exit before the best-of-seven first round.

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