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Heat’s fall to No. 8 puts them in postseason path of most resistance

MIAMI — After it all went so wrong Sunday night, the Miami Heat now have five weeks to make things right.

Or else? Treachery.

With Sunday night’s stunning 110-108 loss to the Washington Wizards, the Heat tumbled to the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

And that hardly would be a preferred final resting place at the April 14 end of the regular season.

If the season were to end as the standings currently stand, the Heat would play the in opening game of the play-in round on the road against Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam at the Indiana Pacers. Win that game, and the Heat would be the No. 7 playoff seed in the best-of-seven first round of the playoffs.

However, lose that game and the Heat, based on the current standings, would return home in a winner-take-all final play-in game against the winner of the Atlanta Hawks-Chicago Bulls game. Win that game and it’s the No. 8 seed against the No. 1 Boston Celtics. Lose that game, and it’s off to the lottery.

So, no, not optimal.

“This is also why we love this profession. We love all the context and pressure at this time of year,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, with the Heat in the midst of a three-game losing streak. “And we didn’t handle our business in these three games. But I know there will be teams in the East that don’t, as well. And we’re not leaving it up to them. We’re just going to have to focus on ourselves.

“But this is a harrowing ride and our group has the right intentions.”

So, yes, buckle up, with a schedule that resumes with Wednesday night’s rematch of the 2023 NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets, the Heat’s final home game before a four-game trip.

“All these games down the stretch, this is why I love this time of the year, because every team is going through it,” Spoelstra said of the ever-changing face of the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack. “And you feel like it’s only you that are going through something like this. Everybody is going to have the context and pressure and expectations on the games down the stretch. And they have meaning.

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“It’s not as if we have to talk about the standings. Everybody is well aware of the standings, especially with the competitive nature of the group that we have. But you also cannot be overwhelmed with everything.”

But you also cannot play as underwhelming as the Heat did Sunday night, falling to an opponent that entered 10-53.

“This game is just very humbling,” forward Jimmy Butler said. “And if you don’t come out with the right mindset, this is what will happen, this is what will continue to happen. Ain’t too much to say.”

For now, the question is one of sustainability. During this three-game losing streak, the Heat have blown leads of 15, 14 and 11 points, respectively, against the Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Wizards.

“We’ve just got to sustain the right level of play, man,” guard Terry Rozier said. “We got to have a way that we want to play and we got to go out there and do it to a T and sustain that throughout the whole game.

“We understand that this league, it’s the best players in the world. But when we’ve got a plan and we can execute it, we’re tough to beat. But in these last couple games, it’s kind of like we get away from our identity and who we are. So it’s tough to win like that.”

All or nothing

Down two after drawing an offensive foul against the Wizards with 12.2 seconds to play, the Heat lost Sunday when Duncan Robinson and then Butler were off on 3-point attempts.

Spoelstra, who had a timeout remaining, said it was not a matter of going for the win.

“No,” he said, “not necessarily, just to get the right available shot. We were fully ready to take a timeout if necessary. And I thought we had two great looks at it.”

Butler, though, had other ideas.

“I’m never going for the tie,” he said, “ever.”

Butler closed 0 for 4 on 3-pointers against the Wizards and is 0 for 7 on 3-pointers in his past two games.

The Heat missed four 3-point attempts in Sunday’s final 41.7 seconds.

“I thought the last four 3-point looks we got, I thought all four were going down,” Spoelstra said.