Udonis Haslem hasn’t played a lot this season, but he’s begun creeping his way back into the Heat’s rotation of late, providing short spurts of defensive energy in what he calls a defensive back role.
More importantly, the Heat’s tri-captain said he’s been trying to deliver an important message over the last two weeks to the rookies and young players who are about to venture into the playoffs for the first time in their careers.
The Heat wasn’t at its playoff best Friday night on the second night of a back-to-back, and it cost them dearly. Led by Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic, who often ran the pick and roll to perfection, the lottery-bound Magic struck a blow to the Heat’s chances at earning home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs with a 112-109 victory at the Amway Center.
With Friday’s loss and Charlotte’s win at home over the Nets and Boston’s win over the Bucks, the Heat (46-33) fell back into a tie with the Hornets (46-33) for fifth place in the East (Miami still owns the tiebreaker based on division record) and a full game behind the Celtics and Hawks for home court with three regular season games to go.
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“Some of the things that happen throughout the games or situations that have occurred or the effort that we’ve played with, I’ve made it a point to let the guys know that if we go into Atlanta or Charlotte or Boston with this attitude or this level of energy, it’s not going to work for us,” Haslem said before playing in his fourth consecutive game Friday after playing just six times in the first 22 games after the All-Star break.
“I’m just making a point to bring everything back to a playoff atmosphere and playoff mind-set.”
Said a frustrated Dwyane Wade said of home-court advantage: “It’s important. You want to have it. You play the season for that. But if we get done with 82 games and after 82 games we don’t have home-court advantage, oh, well, we start on the road. Simple as that. You still have a playoff series to play. And you have to win on the road if you want to be considered as a good team.”
The Heat couldn’t do that Friday night.
There were 16 lead changes over the first three quarters and another seven over the first three minutes in the fourth quarter before the Magic (34-45) grabbed the lead and stopped Miami from taking it back.
Miami, 17-9 since the All-Star break, tied the score at 109 on a Joe Johnson three-pointer with 30 seconds left. But less than 10 seconds later on the other side of the floor, Fournier (28 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) found Vucevic (29 points, six rebounds) on the pick and roll for the go-ahead dunk.
“We weren’t able to corral that pick and roll most of the night,” said coach Erik Spoelstra after the Heat was outscored 60-54 in the paint. “We got a couple stops there at the end. But then they got the big one that they needed.”
The Heat still had a couple chances to tie it. Johnson missed a runner that would have tied the score at 111 with 8.9 seconds left. The Heat grabbed the offensive rebound, and Spoelstra called time out. But on the ensuing inbounds play, Luol Deng’s pass to Johnson was intercepted by a diving Devyn Marble.
After Fournier made a free throw, the Heat, out of time outs, was forced to put up a last-second heave, and Wade missed badly.
The Heat missed 10 of its 21 free-throw attempts and shot just 45 percent from the field.
Wade was 7 of 19 and led seven double-digit scorers with 17 points. Hassan Whiteside had 13 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks.
Whiteside also drew a costly technical foul in the fourth quarter after he lost the ball on the way to the basket and thought he was fouled. The play continued, and Orlando’s Elfrid Payton hit a layup drew a foul. With the technical free throw, the Magic turned a four-point play and led 102-97, and the Heat played catchup the rest of the way.
“I was actually mentioning to the official we had him under control,” Spoelstra said. “Yes, he was frustrated because he got hit in the face. And that would have been a dunk. But I don’t think he was out of control. I really don’t. He was walking to the sideline, and I was walking to him and, we had two teammates that were corralling. I don’t think it needed to be a technical. That was an opportunity to let that diffuse and let him express momentary piece of emotion and then move on.”
Said Whiteside, who finished 1 of 7 from the free-throw line: “We just missed a lot of free throws. I shot bad from the free-throw line. It shouldn’t have even come down to that.”
▪ Jason Williams, the starting point guard on Miami’s first NBA title team, sat courtside at Friday’s game near the Heat bench. Williams, 40, spent three seasons with the Heat and retired from basketball in 2011.