MIAMI (AP) – Dwyane Wade knows there’s plenty of doubt about the Miami Heat and their playoff chances right now.
It doesn’t make him want to hide. Instead, he’s telling teammates to use it as fuel.
The Heat will try to avoid falling out of the postseason race when they host the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night.
Down and somehow not yet out – even after a season dominated by illness, injury and some big blown leads, most recently a 19-point halftime edge on Thursday night – Wade told his team at practice on Friday that there’s a reason why the Heat still have a pulse in the Eastern Conference race.
And it’s not because so many teams are under .500.
“Individually, each guy in here at some point has been told they’re not good enough, has been told they can’t do it,” Wade said. “So individually, everyone has that mentality. … That’s the reason guys haven’t packed it up and said ‘This season’s over.'”
They could have in July, when LeBron James left Miami and returned to Cleveland. They could have in December, when Josh McRoberts was lost for the season to a ligament tear in his right knee. They could have in February, when Chris Bosh was ruled out for the year because of blood clots on a lung.
Yet at practice Friday, the Heat (35-44) were still working. They have three games left and sit 10th in the East, two spots outside of the postseason bracket. Miami is two games back of eighth-place Brooklyn and one behind Indiana. Both have three games left.
“We still think we have a good shot at it,” forward Udonis Haslem said. “We could have let this thing go a long time ago, and we didn’t. We stayed with it. This team has a bunch of guys that probably a lot of people never thought would be here.”
Haslem has been with the Heat for all 12 of his pro seasons, like Wade. They’ve been to the Finals five times, winning three titles. The team has played 154 playoff games together, but if this group – which features players who’ve recently been in the NBA Development League, Lebanon and China – gets in, Haslem said it would “huge.”
“And if we get in, who knows what can happen in a seven-game series,” he said.
The Heat have lost six games in which they’ve led by 15 or more, most recently the Thursday debacle against Chicago when Miami was outscored 33-8 in the third quarter alone and 39-8 to open the second half – more than enough to waste a 19-point halftime lead.
Still, with games against Toronto (47-32), Orlando on Monday and Philadelphia on Wednesday, the Heat figure a 3-0 finish might be enough – although they’ll need some help.
“This has been a turbulent six weeks,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But we’re still alive.”
While the Raptors are assured of the playoffs, they’re still playing for the No. 3 seed in the East. After beating Orlando 101-99 on Friday, Toronto is tied with Chicago and would gain the higher seed as Atlantic Division champions if things stay that way. Both teams also have three games remaining. The Raptors close at Boston and against Charlotte.
Lou Williams drained a 3-pointer from the corner with 9.9 seconds left Friday to put the Raptors ahead before they forced the Magic to miss a last-second shot attempt.
Point guard Kyle Lowry returned after missing seven games with back spasms and was in the starting lineup. He scored 10 points and had seven assists but the tight contest forced coach Dwane Casey to play him for over 33 minutes, which was not in the game plan.
“For us, next week is way more important than right now,” Casey told the team’s official website. “We wanted to get him some run, but we didn’t want him going 33 minutes and that was a major concern going down the stretch.
“That was the only negative of tonight, that he played more than we wanted.”
The Heat and Raptors split the first two meetings this season with each team winning on its home floor. Toronto’s 102-92 victory on March 13 ended a 16-game losing streak in the series that coincided with James’ time in Miami.
Toronto’s next victory will match the team record of 48 set last season.
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)