Heat assure themselves of home postseason appearance with 129-101 rout of 76ers

There will be postseason basketball on the Miami Heat’s homecourt, no matter what name the facility goes by these days.

That part was assured with Thursday night’s 129-101 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, the Heat’s most lopsided victory of the season.

“I just know we’re gaining some confidence,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we’re getting healthy at the right time,”

Assured now of no worse than a seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference, the Heat, at the least, if they cannot make a further gain, will host a play-in game Tuesday night at the Kaseya Center, against either the Atlanta Hawks or the Toronto Raptors.

There also remains a highly remote chance of the Heat moving to No. 6 in the East and facing the No. 3 76ers in the first round, which would give them the week off and spare them from the play-in round.

With far more to play for, with Philadelphia locked into No. 3 entering the night, the Heat pushed to a 25-point lead in the first half and seized the night from there.

“You don’t see anything coming with our team this year,” Spoelstra said of a season that has included such highs as Thursday, as well as the lows of multiple losses to lottery teams.

The victory extended the Heat’s winning streak to three and increased hope of postseason noise.

“We’ve just been focusing on us, our consistency, how we want to play and having that kind of reliable approach every night,” Spoelstra said.

Jimmy Butler, afforded the luxury of sitting out the fourth quarter, sparked the Heat with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, supported by 24 from Tyler Herro and 14 apiece from Bam Adebayo and Max Strus.

The 76ers, who pulled their starters early in the fourth quarter, got 21 points from Joel Embiid and 14 from James Harden.

“They were in a different circumstance than us,” Spoelstra said.

Five Degrees of Heat from Thursday’s game:

1. Piling it on: The Heat led 41-31 after a first period that saw them go 6 of 10 on 3-pointers. They then went up 25 in the second period, before taking a 67-46 lead into halftime.

From there, the Heat extended their lead to 26 in the third period, the 76ers clawed back within 13, with the Heat then taking a 96-78 lead into the fourth.

The game tilted in the Heat’s direction to the point that even while up 106-83 with 7:15 left, the Heat successfully challenged a block-charge call to regain possession and nullify potential Philadelphia free throws.

“Our pace was unbelievable tonight,” guard Kyle Lowry said, with the Heat tying the franchise record of 39 assists.

2. Playoff picture: With the victory, the Heat are assured of no worse than seventh place in the Eastern Conference. That means, at worst, they will have two opportunities in the play-in round, starting Tuesday, to get a single victory needed to advance to the best-of-seven first round of the playoffs.

“We understand the situation we’re in,” Lowry said.

As a play-in team, should the Heat advance, they would face either the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks or No. 2 Boston Celtics in the first round.

The Heat still have an outside shot at No. 6 in the East, the conference’s final direct playoff spot, but that would require four specific results: Heat victories over the Wizards on Friday night and Magic on Sunday, as well as Brooklyn Nets losses on Friday to the Magic and Sunday to the 76ers. Anything other than those four exact results and the Nets get No. 6 ahead of the Heat.

“All that matters now,” Herro said, “is that we’ve got a great opportunity. The playoffs are right around the corner.”

3. Butler time: After a passive first half Tuesday night in Detroit, Butler came out in attack mode, with eight points and five assists in his initial 11-minute stint. His four shots in that stint were four times as many as he took in Tuesday’s first quarter.

He was up to 10 points and six assists at the intermission, opening the second-half scoring with a 3-pointer.

“I was making all the right plays,” he said.

In addition to his 24 points, Butler added six assists and three rebounds.

“Jimmy being assertive is important,” Spoelstra said.

The Heat closed at .557 from the field, .462 on 3-pointers.

“It’s hard to beat us when we make shots,” Butler said.

4. Herro’s heater: Herro had 16 points in his first 16 minutes, including 3 of 4 on 3-pointers and 5 of 5 from the line.

Herro, who closed 5 of 8 on 3-pointers, was supported by the solid 3-point shooting of Strus, who started for the third consecutive game and closed 4 of 8 on 3-pointers.

The Heat again attempted to hide their defensive liabilities with an extensive amount of zone, which worked particularly well in the first half, helping hold the 76ers to overall .278 3-point shooting.

5. Everyone plays: Having limited his rotation to eight players in Tuesday night’s victory over the Pistons at the start of this trip, Spoelstra this time was 10 deep by the end of the first period, injecting both Haywood Highsmith and Duncan Robinson into that mix.

Lowry, Caleb Martin and Kevin Love again played as the three primary components off the bench.

Love helped set a tone, drawing four charges, the most by a Heat player this season.

“He has a great knack for that,” Spoelstra said.

“Felt all of them,” Love said.

Spoelstra said afterward that Lowry would sit out Friday night in Washington on the second night of the back-to-back set.


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