Warriors vs. Heat goes from matchup of dominance to one of desperation

MIAMI — Typically, this would be an NBA showcase moment, the Golden State Warriors’ lone visit of the season to Kaseya Center. But little has been typical this season for the Warriors or the Miami Heat.

So instead, on Tuesday night arrives a matchup with a different set of emotions, dominance replaced by desperation.

For the Heat, the battle to avoid the play-in round continues. For the Warriors, it is the fight to remain in the play-in field, at the moment with a singular focus of . . . 10th place.

No, not quite what one would expect in a meeting of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, with the Heat coming off last season’s trip to the NBA Finals and the Warriors the NBA champions as recently as 2022.

Sunday, as he addressed how his team went from Friday night’s 111-88 home humiliation at the hands of New Orleans Pelicans to Sunday night’s 121-84 crushing of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra noted how “humbling” the NBA can stand.

For his injury-ravaged team, Spoelstra said it’s not for a lack of wont, even with Friday’s tribulation.

“The one thing about this group, this group really cares. Even after a night like the other night,” Spoelstra said, with the Warriors the third game on a four-game homestand that concludes Friday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.

“This is a team that cares deeply. There’s so many of the guys that have a personality — throw me in there, too — we beat ourselves up after poor performances, and we just can’t wait to get back out there again and try to make amends for it. And that’s the thing I really admire about this group. The group cares. And even through some of the tough times, there can be some benefits from that.”

A year ago, the Heat started the postseason as a seventh-place team, ultimately winding up with the No. 8 East seed through the play-in round. Now, with 11 games remaining, there is a scramble with the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers to secure the No. 6 East seed and the final direct-entry spot into the best-of-seven opening round of the playoffs.

As with the Spoelstra and 34-year-old Jimmy Butler, Warriors coach Steve Kerr has found himself balancing these frantic final three weeks of the season between securing seeding and having his 30-something star ready for a potential redemptive playoff run.

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Curry, 36, appreciates the fine line.

“Every game matters,” he said in the wake of the Warriors’ 114-110 road loss Sunday to the Minnesota Timberwolves, when he was held out for part of closing time by Kerr “We’re inching closer to the other side of the standings we never thought we’d be in. Nobody’s going to wave the white flag and say we’re mailing it in. If that means playing more minutes, I’ll be ready to do that.”

The Heat won the first meeting of the two-game season series 114-102 on Dec. 28 at Chase Center, on a night Butler sat out with a calf strain, a night Curry closed 3 of 15 from the field. At that moment, both teams were somewhat pacing themselves.

Now pace has given way to the realities of the unforeseen, Heat-Warriors in late-March battle for seeding survival.

In the wake of Sunday’s beatdown of the shorthanded Cavaliers, when the Heat shot .518 from the field and converted 15 3-pointers, Adebayo paused to appreciate that this is no time for celebration.

“When it gets in the playoffs, these games don’t matter,” he said. “The game slows down, possession by possession and it starts looking a lot different.

“Obviously, for me, it feels weird if you don’t make the playoffs, because it’s like, I don’t know what to do with that summer. There’s nothing like it. Regular season and the playoffs are totally different.”

Getting there is Tuesday’s sole focus, on both sides.

That has Kerr very much sounding like Spoelstra.

“We’ve got to keep moving forward,” Kerr said.