MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The Miami Heat’s push towards the playoffs will have them facing a familiar foe on Tuesday night at the AAA.
Kawhi Leonard and the surging San Antonio Spurs have all but wrapped up a Western Conference playoff spot with April just around the corner.READ MORE: Florida Is Ditching Palm Trees To Fight Climate Crisis
While things are much more up in the air in the East, Dwyane Wade and the injury-plagued Heat control their own destiny.
San Antonio looks to inch closer to a playoff berth Tuesday night when it visits Miami for the first time since last year’s NBA Finals.
The reigning NBA champions have won 13 of 16, including three in a row by an average of 23.7 points after getting by Memphis 103-89 on Sunday in a potential first-round playoff matchup. San Antonio is in sixth place with nine games remaining, and can cut its magic number for a playoff spot to one with a victory.
Leonard has been leading the playoff push, scoring 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter Sunday to help the Spurs (47-26) pull away. He shot 6 of 7 over the final 12 minutes and is averaging 18.7 points on 51.8 percent from the floor over the last six games. San Antonio is 22-4 when he scores at least 17.
“He’s playing with more patience,” forward Manu Ginobili said. “He knows that we’re going to look for him and the shots are going to come. … We are not dumb, we need him to score like that. He understands that now.”
Leonard’s play shouldn’t come as any surprise to Miami, which had no answer for the reigning Finals MVP in last year’s five-game series. Leonard averaged 23.7 points on 68.6 percent shooting over the final three games, leading the Spurs to a fifth championship in 16 seasons.READ MORE: Florida Boy, 15, Faces Charges In Death Of Girl He's Accused Of Shooting
San Antonio also took this season’s first meeting 98-85 on Feb. 6 behind 24 points from Leonard. Tony Parker added 21 on 9-of-12 shooting as the Spurs limited Miami to six fast-break points with Wade on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury.
San Antonio is seeking a third consecutive regular-season victory in the series after dropping the previous five, including its last four visits to Miami.
“You always have to get up to play the Spurs,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “I don’t know what their situation is in the West, but in my mind they’re still the best team in the NBA. We’ve got a huge, huge task ahead of us on Tuesday.”
The seventh-place Heat (34-39) are one of five clubs battling for the East’s last two playoffs spots, and they’ve won a season-best five straight and eight of nine on their own court. Miami completed a 1-3 road trip before opening a two-game homestand with Sunday’s 109-102 victory over Detroit.
Wade poured in 19 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter and Haslem added 18 and 13 rebounds to set season highs in both categories. Wade, who had fluid drained from his left knee the day before, carried the load after Miami lost forwards Luol Deng (knee) and Michael Beasley (elbow) to injury in the first two quarters.
“Just being strong-willed,” said Wade, whose team was also without centers Hassan Whiteside (hand) and Chris Andersen (calf). “We didn’t have that many guys coming into the game, and then we lost two coming out of halftime … but you have to do what you have to do. We had to get a win here at home, I’m glad we were able to pull it out.”
Wade is averaging 30.1 points on 51.7 percent shooting over the last eight home games. However, he’s been limited to 14.3 per game in his last seven against the Spurs, including playoffs.MORE NEWS: Coast Guard Transfers 28 Cubans To The Bahamas
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