Miami Heat

Playoff hopes tenuous as Miami Heat falls to Spurs, embarks on three-game trip

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside gets the ball slapped out of his hands by the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard in the fourth quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, March 31, 2015.
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside gets the ball slapped out of his hands by the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard in the fourth quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, March 31, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

With a difficult road trip now awaiting the Heat, the Eastern Conference’s four-time defending champion is once again in danger of missing the playoffs.

A 95-81 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena was the Heat’s fourth loss in its past six games and dropped Miami into a tie in the loss column with the Brooklyn Nets in the East standings. At seventh place, the Heat (34-40) is a half-game ahead of the Nets in the standings, and also holds the playoff tiebreaker against Brooklyn. That detail is little security now, though, considering the Heat embarks Wednesday on a three-game road trip against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.

“Hopefully we have a few more guys coming back on this road trip,” Dwyane Wade said. “We have eight games left and we need to just keep playing for it. We just have to fight.”

Spurs guard Tony Parker made a floater with one second remaining on the shot clock to give the Spurs an 87-75 lead with 3:06 remaining and cut short a Heat fourth-quarter rally. Tiago Splitter then cleaned up an offensive rebound and finished with a layup to extend the Spurs’ advantage. The Heat cut a 21-point deficit to 10 but didn’t get any closer.

The Spurs outscored the Heat 48-39 in the second half. Wade finished with 15 points in his second game since having fluid drained from his sore left knee. Hassan Whiteside returned from an injury but didn’t start and played with his right hand wrapped to protect the 10 stitches between the middle and ring fingers of his right hand. He had 10 points and six rebounds.

“It’s feeling OK,” said Whiteside, who should have the stitches out in two weeks. “It hurt me [on] a couple possessions. I lost the ball a couple times more than I wanted to, but I tried to play my best though.”

Chris Andersen, starting at center after missing multiple games with a sore calf, had four points and 10 rebounds.

Udonis Haslem, one of the heroes of the Heat’s victory Sunday against the Pistons, missed Tuesday’s game with an illness, and Luol Deng also wasn’t in the starting lineup due to a sore left knee. James Ennis started in place of Deng and had seven points in 27 minutes. Point guard Goran Dragic led the Heat with 19 points.

“The people [who are] playing, it’s not that they’re healthy,” Wade said. “They’re just good enough to play. … Is it mind-boggling every day when we walk in here and we don’t know who is going to play? Yes, it has been different. It has been a bizarre season, and we’ve just got to keep going until we can’t anymore.”

The Heat started the game 0 of 10 from the field, but tied it 10-10 with a layup from Mario Chalmers. Whiteside checked into the game on the Heat’s next possession and almost immediately impacted the action despite his carefully wrapped right hand. He first made a four-foot floater in the lane and then blocked two shots in the final two minutes of the first quarter.

Whiteside sliced his hand last week against the Milwaukee Bucks and Tuesday was his first game since the injury. He appeared to play tentatively during his 23 minutes, and several Spurs defenders, including Tiago Splitter, swatted at Whiteside’s injured hand throughout the game.

“It seemed like every time I got the ball they were going right after it,” Whiteside said. “Every time it was a foul or a throwdown. … Tylenol is a great medicine, and it made me feel a lot better.”

During one sequence in the third quarter, Whiteside improvised a beautiful spin move on Spurs defender Boris Diaw in transition but missed the layup attempt. The Heat trailed by 15 at that point, but a dunk by Whiteside — gingerly finished by his standards — cut San Antonio’s lead to 11 in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs led 71-60 entering the final period despite committing 16 turnovers to that point, including seven giveaways in the third quarter. San Antonio finished with 19 turnovers, but the Heat committed 18.

HIGH PRAISE

▪ The Heat used its 30th different starting lineup of the season Tuesday against the Spurs, tying a franchise record. The Heat previously used 30 different starting lineups during the 2007-08 season.

▪ Count Spurs coach Gregg Popovich among those impressed with how Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has juggled and managed the Heat’s season after losing LeBron James to Cleveland and reorganizing the team multiple times due to injuries and trades.

“It should be common knowledge by now that he’s an excellent coach,” Popovich said. “He knows what wins and what loses. He’s comfortable in his own skin. He teaches well, he’s going to make fair demands on whoever is available. He’s earned the respect of his players over the years and turned into a fine coach. He’s not a young guy learning anymore. He’s a helluva fine coach.”

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