Barry Jackson

Heat faces unusual seeding predicament after loss in Indiana

The Pacers’ Victor Oladipo and the Heat’s Dwyane Wade embrace after Indiana’s overtime win Sunday at BankersLife Fieldhouse. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
The Pacers’ Victor Oladipo and the Heat’s Dwyane Wade embrace after Indiana’s overtime win Sunday at BankersLife Fieldhouse. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 113-107 overtime loss in Indiana:

1. The chances of catching No. 4 Philadelphia or No. 5 Indiana are slim at best after this result, with Miami now trailing both by four games and eight games to play.

So the likelihood now is that the Heat will finish sixth, seventh or eighth in the East, with seventh by far the most appealing because that likely would mean a matchup with Boston, which is expected to be without Kyrie Irving for three to six weeks after a knee procedure.

Finishing eighth means a matchup with Toronto and sixth likely means a first-round series against surging Cleveland.

And the benefit of finishing seventh instead of sixth could lead to some eyebrow-raising results and decisions over the final two weeks.

The sixth-seed Wizards, who might ultimately want to “reverse-catch” the Heat or Bucks for seventh, inexplicably lost to the reeling Knicks on Sunday, at home no less, and is one game ahead of No. 7 Milwaukee and 1.5 games ahead of the No. 8 Heat.

None of the three teams jockeying for “seventh” will ever publicly discuss the merits of seventh instead of sixth or eighth. But it’s a fascinating subplot as the season plays out.

2. With Erik Spoelstra back in Miami for the birth of his first child Sunday evening, Dan Craig filled in and stuck mostly to Spoelstra’s substitution patterns. But Craig played only nine, bypassing Rodney McGruder, who played Friday night after Tyler Johnson picked up two fouls in the first minute of the Oklahoma City game.

It was Craig’s first game as a head coach since he led the Heat’s G-League affiliate in Sioux Falls, S.D. to that league’s championship in 2015-16, his only season there.

“I think to start the game there was a little bit of an adjustment,” Craig said. “Once I got into it, I felt pretty comfortable. The assistants did a great job helping me coach the game and the players too. They did a great job in the huddles staying together and on the court.”

Players gave Craig good reviews.

“D.C. did a great job, got us prepared,” Dwyane Wade said. “I thought all the guys responded very well to his voice, to his leadership. And there was a collective group [so] the coaches’ voices were heard a little more. The bench did a great job.”

Said James Johnson: “I thought he did a really great job, of really controlling the game, really getting guys in and out. But it all started with our shootaround, how he was able to talk, getting us focused in. So great future for him.”

Craig had some tough decisions, including an overtime lineup. He went with Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk and Dwyane Wade, thus bypassing Tyler Johnson, who tied a career-high with five three-pointers.

The likely thought process behind that: James Johnson was playing well, Richardson is Miami’s best perimeter defender, Dragic and Wade are almost always going to play late in close games and Olynyk was on the verge of what could have been his first career triple double. He fell just short, closing with 12 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists.

“That’s the tough thing with this team,” Craig said. “You would like to put seven or eight guys out there because we have a deep team and we had multiple guys that were playing well. I couldn’t get them all on the floor. But the guys when they did play their minutes, I felt they left it all out there.”

Craig is well-regarded around the league and we hear he is among a bunch of coaches on the radar of the Phoenix Suns, who are in the early stages of their head coaching search.

Former Memphis coach and ex-Heat assistant David Fizdale is another name Phoenix is said to be looking at.

The Suns have said they won’t ask for permission to speak with coaches from other teams during the regular season. Interim coach Jay Triano will be considered.

3. The Heat has played something like 206 close games. Or it certainly feels like that.

Miami has played more clutch games – games which have a margin of five or fewer at some point in the final five minutes – than any team in the league. The Heat is now 27-23 in those 50 games with clutch minutes.

If you missed it, a couple of key points late in the regulation:

After Dwyane Wade (13 points) front-rimmed a jumper with 49 seconds left and the game tied, Wade fouled Myles Turner on an offensive rebound and Turner hit one of two free throws to leave the Pacers ahead 96-95 and 23 seconds left.

James Johnson then drew a blocking foul on Thaddeus Young with 14 seconds left, but referees waved off the basket, saying it was not a continuation play. Miami didn’t even get free throws on that foul since Indiana wasn’t over the limit.

Johnson didn’t object to the call.

“I thought I picked up the ball, but I was spinning, so I didn’t get to see what the refs saw,” Johnson said. “Good call.”

vic
Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) shoots under Miami Heat forward James Johnson (16) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Sun., March 25, 2018. The Pacers defeated the Heat 113-107 in overtime. Michael Conroy AP

Johnson drew a foul with eight seconds left, but missed the second of two free throws after making the first, which left him “confused” because “I know what it feels like when I let it go and it felt good.”

Victor Oladipo missed an off-balance 28 footer at the buzzer but came back in overtime with a step-back three to put the Pacers up 106-100 with 1:21 left in OT. Miami never again drew closer than three.

Still, playing so many close games has value, players say.

“It will definitely help,” Olynyk said. “It can only help. Experience and being in those situations, trusting each other. Knowing what to do, what works. That’s what it’s going to be like in the postseason. You’re not blowing teams out there. So it’s going to be a steady dose of that. That’s what we need, and you play every possession like it’s overtime in the postseason.”

4. Tyler Johnson has ignited after an uneven first half of the season. After shooting 35.2 percent on threes before the season, Johnson is 31 for 67 since.

But Johnson played just 4:10 of the fourth quarter and none in overtime. He took just three shots in the second half.

Dragic said: “I feel like that he didn’t get a lot of shots after that, so maybe we should go more often to him.”

Johnson said the All-Star break helped: “Mentally I had to get myself back. I was kind of pressing a little bit. Wanted to do things a little bit different. Not that I didn’t know how but sometimes when you’re doing it day in and day out and don’t have any type of break, you go, go, go instead of looking at the big picture.

“During the break, I was able to exhale and see what was working and what wasn’t working and what things I could change because we’re all creatures of habit. You always want to go back to what you’ve done. I just had to figure out the things to do to benefit me but in a faster, better way.”

He said he has made “no mechanical change” in his shot. “Just shooting it and not thinking about it. If you’re shooting it, you can’t be thinking it’s a good shot or a bad shot because then you’re probably not going to make it.”

5. Josh Richardson’s offense is pretty uneven at the moment. Richardson opened 0 for 4 and didn’t hit a field goal until early in the fourth. But he made 4 of his last five shots to finish with 10.

Richardson entered having scored exactly four points in three of his previous five games – against Portland (on 2 for 6 shooting), the Lakers (1 for 8 shooting) and Oklahoma City (2 for 10).

Richardson’s defense is still very good, but he hasn’t been the same offensive force who averaged 17.4 months in December.

In the three months since, Richardson has averaged 14.0, 14.5 and 11.5 points.

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