The only way Tuesday night counted as a possible playoff preview: 10 players on the court, five wearing Heat jerseys and five wearing Milwaukee’s red-and-white jerseys that should have come with a pep band playing On Wisconsin from section 105.
So, Tuesday’s 94-83 Heat win counted as one for the record-keepers.
Though their aim wasn’t true most of the night, this season’s Heat model tied the franchise record of 61 wins in a season, set by the 1996-97 Heat, the winners of Heat-Knicks I and Eastern Conference final losers to eventual NBA champion Chicago.
If the Heat wins Wednesday in Washington or Western Conference leader San Antonio loses, it will clinch the No. 1 overall seed and home-court advantage as long as it’s in this year’s NBA playoffs.
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“It’s nice. It’s not everything,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “Our mind-set last year was “Anyone, Anywhere.” I think that’s best mind-set going into the playoffs. But it was nice having that Game 7 against Boston [in the Eastern Conference final] at home, in retrospect.”
Otherwise, well, the tone was set for this game when the players voted Battier jump the opening tap against Milwaukee’s 6-11 Larry Sanders.
The Heat didn’t have Chris Bosh (flu, doubtful for Wednesday night’s game in Washington) and Dwyane Wade (knee). In their absence, eight Heat players, about the number that would get into a playoff game at all, played at least 20 minutes, and point guard Norris Cole played 19:36. Ten players scored. Udonis Haslem pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds.
“We needed him to be a presence on the glass tonight. He’s doing it from the center position,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
All that allowed Heat forward LeBron James to rest his still tender hamstring for all but 30:04.
“If we can win games and allow our main games to get rest, it means we’re doing our job as Garbage Pail Kids or whatever we want to call us,” Heat guard Mike Miller joked.
(Miller later joked, “I’m a Garbage Pail Kid, those guys are actual basketball players.”)
“That’s the depth that we have, allowing everyone to come in and keep up the same pace. Even though we’d love to be fully healthy, it allowed some of our guys who haven’t played as much throughout the season to get an opportunity.”
In that time, James produced 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. The assists don’t count James first quarter pass off the backboard to himself for a fast break dunk.
“I actually got outsmarted,” James said. “Monta [Ellis] outsmarted me. I had to outsmart him, too. I was going to Mike [Miller] and he played the passing lane, so I had to make an in-flight adjustment.”
Had the Heat been just average from three-point range, 40 percent, it could have coasted home. James could have been well on the way to a triple-double by halftime and probably could’ve rested even more. Instead, they went eight of 35 on three-pointers, one of 13 in the first half.
“We were out of rhythm tonight,” Battier said. We had two nights off, two days off. Everyone was a little winded. We had great looks. We just missed them. I’d much rather get that out of our system now.”
Brandon Jennings pumped in a game-high 30 points for Milwaukee.