As they prepare to host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, the reigning Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat are downplaying the fact they could end up having to begin the postseason in the play-in round as things currently stand.
"It's not discussed in the locker room," Heat forward Trevor Ariza said. "It really doesn't matter. Wherever you are seeded is going to be tough. Worrying about play-in or not play-in, I don't think it makes much sense."
With six games left in the regular season, the Heat (35-31) are tied with the Boston Celtics for the sixth seed in the East, the final seed that avoids the play-in tournament. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head games and Miami is 0-1 against the Celtics with two games remaining between the teams Sunday and Tuesday at Boston.
Over their past three games, the Heat are allowing opponents to shoot 46.3 percent from 3-point range. That weakness was exploited most during a 127-113 loss to the Mavericks on Tuesday. Dallas made 22 of 48 attempts from beyond the arc led by Tim Hardaway Jr.'s 10 makes on 18 attempts.
"I think the most important thing is we have to have a 48-minute commitment of our best version defensively," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And, also, we've learned the last several weeks, it makes sense, it ties in with your offense. If your offense is efficient, you're executing and getting shots in your wheelhouse, your defensive balance is better. The flow of the game is better."
The Timberwolves (20-46) recently put together their longest winning streak of the season, a four-game run, before losing games to the New Orleans Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies by four points each.
Miami now faces another sharp-shooting playmaker in Minnesota rookie Anthony Edwards, who is averaging 23.1 points on 47.2 percent shooting, including 38.4 percent from 3-point range, over his past 10 games.
Edwards matched a career-high with 42 points on 17-of-22 shooting overall and 8 of 9 from long distance against Memphis. Edwards' eight 3-pointers set a franchise rookie record for a single game.
Edwards also became the youngest player in NBA history to make 150 three-pointers. Edwards' 31st game with 20 or more points put him within two of tying Christian Laettner for the Wolves' club record for a rookie.
"He played outstanding tonight," Wolves coach Chris Finch said after the game. "I'm sure he wants to win more than he wants to score 42, but it certainly shows what he's capable of, and for that we should all be pretty excited."
Edwards scored 28 of his 42 in the second half and said he continues to learn what it takes to close out games in the NBA.
"It's a good game," Edwards said. "They bring physicality, they bring energy. They're going to try to punk you, so I feel like it brings the toughness out of you for sure."
Minnesota guard Malik Beasley remains out with a Grade 3 left hamstring strain, as does guard Jarrett Culver (right ankle surgery).
The Heat was without Jimmy Butler against Dallas due to flu-like symptoms the team said were unrelated to COVID-19. Victor Oladipo (right knee) missed his 14th consecutive game and Tyler Herro (right foot soreness) sat out his sixth in a row.
--Field Level Media