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Dallas stars sizzle as Miami stars fizzle in crucial 111-92 Heat playoff-race loss

MIAMI — The Miami Heat again showed Wednesday night they are not up to the challenge of the best of the West.

Because of that, this time with a 111-92 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at Kaseya Center, the playoff picture in the East grew even more muddled for Erik Spoelstra’s team, despite a spirited late show of fight.

In closing the season series 0-2 against the Mavericks, just as the Heat did against the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers, the other elites of the Western Conference, the Heat lost control of their own destiny for homecourt advantage in an Eastern Conference play-in opener.

Instead, it now looms as an increasing reality that the Heat will have to travel for a Tuesday Nos. 7-8 play-in game against Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Win that, and it’s on to the best-of-seven first round of the playoffs. Lose that and it would come down to an all-or-nothing game a week from Friday against the winner of the Nos. 9-10 Atlanta Hawks-Chicago Bulls game, with the winner of that game getting the Boston Celtics in the first round, an opponent that went 3-0 against the Heat this season.

As for advancing directly to the best-of-seven opening round of the East playoffs, that possibility became even more of an abstract on a night the Heat had few answers for Luka Doncic or Kyrie Irving, and offered little in response from Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo,

With the Heat again playing in the injury absences of Terry Rozier and Duncan Robinson, they got 21 points from Tyler Herro and 16 points and 11 rebounds from Kevin Love, but also just 12 points from Butler and just eight points and three rebounds from Adebayo.

By contrast, the Mavericks got 25 points from Irving and 29 points, nine assists and nine rebounds from Doncic.

Five Degrees of Heat from Tuesday night’s game:

— 1. Playoff race: With the result putting the Heat at 36 losses, it eliminated any chance of passing the New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers in the East race.

It also severely reduced the chances of finishing ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Orlando Magic, even with a 3-1 season tiebreaker against each team.

Perhaps most significantly, even with the tiebreaker over the 76ers by virtue of conference record, the Heat would be the road team against Philadelphia in a play-in game if the 76ers win their final two games, home matchups against the Magic and lottery-bound Brooklyn Nets.

Wednesday night’s loss dropped the Heat to 44-36, with the idle 76ers at 45-35.

The Heat close their regular season with Friday and Sunday games against the Toronto Raptors.

— 2. Game flow: Even with Doncic forced to the bench with his third foul with 3:46 left in the first quarter in a rebounding scramble with Adebayo, the Mavericks still moved to a 33-24 lead at the end of the period.

The Mavericks then pushed their lead to 58-38 with 4:38 left in the second period, with Spoelstra burning a fourth timeout by that stage. Behind a combined 40 points from Irving and Doncic Dallas led 69-47 at halftime.

The Heat then went down 25 in the third period, before closing within 88-74 going into the fourth quarter.

From there, the Heat closed within 94-86 with 8:42 to play on a Herro 3-pointer.

Butler and Adebayo then returned with 7 minutes to play and the Heat down 99-86, with Dallas quickly extending their lead from there.

— 3. Fatigue factor: Both teams were playing for the fifth time in seven nights, with both completing back-to-back sets.

The difference was the Heat were coming off a double-overtime victory in Atlanta, while the Mavericks were coming off a romp in Charlotte.

The Mavericks were playing for potential homecourt in the first round of the West playoffs, while also assuring themselves of no worse than No. 5 in the West. With the win, they improved to 16-2 in their last 18 games.

— 4. Stepping up: Having been supplanted by Nikola Jovic for the minutes in relief of Adebayo at center, Love this time stepped up with nine points and six rebounds in the third period to provide one of the Heat’s few sparks.

Love had 13 points and nine rebounds through three periods, compared to eight points and two rebounds at that stage from Adebayo.

— 5. Another step: After scoring 33 points in playing 48 minutes Tuesday night against the Hawks, Herro fought off the fatigue to stand as the Heat’s leading scorer through three periods, with 15 points.

He then stepped up with a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to further fuel the comeback.

The next step for the Heat will be seeing if side-by-side Herro/Rozier is a workable combination.