Greg Cote

There is no pressure on the Heat now; it is all on the Raptors

Heat guard Goran Dragic gets a hug from Dwyane Wade after Miami’s victory over Toronto in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Heat guard Goran Dragic gets a hug from Dwyane Wade after Miami’s victory over Toronto in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

They are playing with house money now. The Miami Heat cannot lose. All of the pressure has lifted from them and gone elsewhere.

No matter how Game 7 in Toronto turns out Sunday, the Heat can feel good about itself and how it clawed to get this far first without centerpiece Chris Bosh and then without center Hassan Whiteside.

The Heat wouldn’t agree, of course. This is not a time for satisfaction or reflection; it is a time for hunger and greed. One more victory and everybody outside of Ontario gets what they want. The carrot on the end of the stick is Heat-Cavs. It is LeBron James.

All of the pressure is on the Raptors now. They are the higher seed that had the better record. They are home. They are favored. They also are the team with everything to prove (and to lose) compared with a Heat franchise that has proved so much.

Toronto has done close to nothing in its 21 seasons, never advancing further in the playoffs than it is right now. Sunday is the biggest game in club history, the biggest sports day in the city’s history probably since the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992-93.

Miami? The Heat in its 28 seasons has played 72 games bigger than this Game 7 — 72 games deeper into the playoffs, including those three ending in NBA championships.

Pedigree. The Heat has what the Raptors still seek.

That — the experience, the having been there before — creates a leveling that gives Miami a big chance Sunday. The Heat has played in 10 previous Game 7s and is 7-3.

Dwyane Wade alone has played in 165 career playoff games, passing Larry Bird on the all-time list. This will be his 19th series elimination game; he is 11-7 in them.

Nobody in Sunday’s game will know that stage better or more intimately than Wade, who has risen to score 110 points over the past four games. He is the reason it would not surprise to find the Heat traveling to Cleveland for an Eastern Conference finals Game 1 that would be Tuesday night.

That would be the reward for winning Sunday — a dubious one, in that the Cavaliers would be prohibitive favorites over Miami. Again, though, all of the expectations and pressure would be on LeBron and the Cavs. Those two or three games in Miami would be spectacles. (And maybe by then Whiteside might be back, although his willingness to channel a 1970 Willis Reed and play with pain is suspect.)

Win or lose Sunday, though, Heat fans can feel good moving forward, top to bottom.

Architect Pat Riley continues to earn faith, retooling with the youthful infusion of rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. After one year out of the playoffs, a one-season post-LeBron swoon, Riley has Miami one win from the Eastern finals despite the erasure of Bosh and now the absence of Whiteside.

Coach Erik Spoelstra, too, has earned a reinvestment of fans’ faith. His ingenuity and adaptability have been on full display, adjusting to the loss of Bosh, speeding up the offensive pace and going small-ball when Whiteside went out.

Wade? What can you say? The other day he wore a cap bearing his adopted nickname: Father Prime. And there is truth in it. At 34 he has enjoyed his best and healthiest season in years. He is aging with grace, proving again in this series that he should be a major player for Miami at least another couple of seasons.

You wonder if a nucleus of a healthy Bosh, Whiteside, Wade, Goran Dragic, Winslow and Richardson isn’t something that might interest blue-chip free agent Kevin Durant to become a part of this summer. Against odds, Riley wants to make that happen. He has surprised us with blockbuster moves before when you didn’t think he could.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. Sorry.

There is a Game 7 left, and then maybe LeBron beyond it.

But no matter how it shakes out from here, the pressure has lifted off Miami.

The state of the Heat feels strong.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at miamiherald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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