Heat Check

Heat’s toughest back-to-back assignment yet lies ahead Sunday

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks with Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson (8) Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. “Who cares?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra responded Friday when asked about the Heat’s tough weekend assignment.
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks with Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson (8) Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. “Who cares?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra responded Friday when asked about the Heat’s tough weekend assignment. adiaz@miamiherald.com

As far as back-to-back games go, consider what the Miami Heat is facing this weekend — it’s toughest assignment yet this season.

Following Saturday’s night’s 8 p.m. home game against a playoff-bound Toronto Raptors squad, the Heat was scheduled to fly out of South Florida around midnight and arrive in Indianapolis about three hours later.

That’s not the tough part.

Sunday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m., but it’s really more like 5 p.m. considering Sunday the clocks are moved ahead one hour for daylight saving time. That means the Heat, fighting to get into the playoffs, will start two games within a 24-hour span. And the Pacers, holding onto the sixth seed in East, have been home since early Saturday morning, following their loss at Milwaukee.

“Who cares?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra responded Friday when asked about the Heat’s tough weekend assignment.

Spoelstra’s no excuses attitude is no surprise. But of the Heat’s 15 back-to-back games this season, this is the second-longest distance the team will travel between games and the shortest time between tipoffs.

“It’s tough,” point guard Goran Dragic said Friday. “But I feel like the [Raptors] game is going to be really important for us. If we win that game, after every win you feel better. Those back-to-backs are not easy, but we never shy away from our responsibilities. We never use excuses. We’re not going use it even for that game. We’re just going to come there, do our routine, try to prepare ourselves the most that we can and try to perform.”

Heat general manager Andy Elisburg said when the schedule first came out the franchise just chalked it up as another tough assignment. He said these type of situations were much tougher before NBA teams started having their own charter flights.

“Every year there’s always one or two tough turnarounds,” Elisburg said. “You want to get your players X number of hours of sleep. Even if you get it from four in the morning to noon, you get it. Just makes the day a little quicker. There’s been times where we’ve gone from Los Angeles to Denver and we walk into the hotel at 5 a.m. and have a game that night. It’s just part of the schedule.”

The Heat entered Saturday’s game 11-13 in back-to-back situations and 5-7 on the second night of a back-to-back. The team has only played a home-away back-to-back two other times this season. Both times the Heat lost the second game, falling at Atlanta on Dec. 7 and then at New Orleans on Dec. 23.

“This last month, it’s about just grinding and getting it done by any means,” guard Dion Waiters said. “So we can’t make excuses.”

Said James Johnson: “You’ve just got to dig deeper within yourself and pull out that savage that everyone has in this locker room.”

▪ Raptors coach Dwane Casey said he’s happy to see the transformation James Johnson has undergone since joining the Heat.

Johnson, 30, is having a career year with the Heat after losing nearly 40 pounds. He spent his two previous seasons in Toronto, but was never the playmaker he’s become with the Heat.

“Unbelievable,” Casey said of Johnson. “I look at him and he looks like a different person. His body is transformed. That’s a credit to him and whoever he’s working with here. He’s done a great job of transforming his body. He’s lighter. And he's moving like a guard. He handles the ball in transition. He’s really disciplined himself into making good decisions. And that’s what James’ challenge has always been.

“But he’s doing a great job. I’m happy for him except when he plays against us. I know how hard he works at it. I know what his life goals are and what his goals are professionally.”

 

COMING UP NEXT

Sunday: Heat at Pacers

When/where: 6 p.m., Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TV/radio: SUN, NBA TV; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)

Series: Pacers lead 60-45

Scouting report: The Heat won the first two regular season meetings in Miami, but are 9-43 all-time at Indiana.

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