The challenge the Miami Heat face in trying to earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference might not be their only concern.
Simply making the playoffs is all that matters to the Houston Rockets.
With the status of injured star Dwyane Wade uncertain, the Heat look to bounce back from a surprising home loss by extending their winning streak over the visiting Rockets to five games Sunday night.
While LeBron James and Chris Bosh got the night off to rest their ailing bodies, Wade dislocated his left index finger early in Saturday’s game and played less than three minutes. With its three superstars watching from the sidelines, Miami (45-18) had its five-game winning streak come to an end with an 86-84 loss to lowly Washington.
With three games remaining, the Heat fell 2 1/2 games behind Chicago for the top seed in the East.
“Second place is not a bad place to be,” said Wade, who underwent X-rays that were negative and said he should be fine for the upcoming playoffs.
While the Heat still have a slim chance to surpass the Bulls for the top spot in the East, it’s uncertain how much more regular-season time James, Wade or Bosh will see.
“Obviously the standings are something that we’re aware of,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And when you have an opportunity to play for it, you do. But in terms of it being bigger than anything … I think players have the proper perspective about it.”
Averaging 30.3 points on 55.3 percent shooting in his last four games, James could be the most likely of the three to play Sunday. He had 33 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in Miami’s 125-119 home win over Houston in the teams’ last meeting March 27, 2011.
Bosh, who has sat the last three games to heal some minor ailments, had 31 points and 12 boards in that contest.
While the Heat have the luxury of resting their top players, Houston (33-31) needs everybody in uniform as it remains in the mix with Utah and Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with two games left. Houston has not reached the playoffs since 2009, despite posting a winning record in each of the last two seasons.
The Rockets, currently 10th in the conference and one game behind the eighth-place Jazz, snapped a season-high six-game skid Saturday with a 99-96 home win over Golden State.
“We’ve been thinking about games and possibilities,” said forward Luis Scola, who scored 13 points against the Warriors. “We’ve got to go to Miami and win one basketball game and hopefully, just hopefully, at the end of the day, we’ll still have chances.”
“We needed to find a way to win one,” said Houston coach Kevin McHale, whose team had allowed 107.2 points per game during the six-game losing streak. “But it was another one of those games where we really weren’t at the top of our game.”
Houston lost both meetings with Miami last season by identical 125-119 scores. Scola totaled 50 points in those contests while shooting 23 of 43.