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Raptors-Heat finale could be playoff preview
MIAMI -- Call this a possible playoff preview.
The Toronto Raptors (59-22) and the host Miami Heat (43-38) meet on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena to close out their regular seasons, and there's a chance these two teams will also face each other in the first round of the playoffs.
The Raptors have the top seed in the Eastern Conference wrapped up and will open the playoffs against the No. 8 seed. The Heat and Washington Wizards are tied for seventh place, a game behind the sixth-place Milwaukee Bucks.
The Heat could wind up seeded anywhere from sixth to eighth, but if they lose to Toronto and the Wizards win at Orlando, the Heat would finish eighth and face the Raptors to open the playoffs.
Heat veteran shooting guard Dwyane Wade is not concerned with the possibility of having to face the Raptors.
"I'm not focused on that," Wade said when asked about the playoffs. "I've been to 13 playoffs now coming up. I have seen so many different scenarios. I have seen so many things happen at the last minute.
"It doesn't matter. We're in the playoffs, and whoever we play, we play."
Heat point guard Goran Dragic said his team's two-game losing streak is also not a major concern.
"Of course we would like to finish the season with a win," he said. "We know we're playing Toronto (Wednesday). We'll see what happens."
Meanwhile, Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters on Monday that his team is not about to coast into the playoffs.
"We're taking these last games seriously," Casey said. "Now is not the time to let bad habits creep into our game. We want to sharpen our game and be ready for the playoffs."
The Raptors held out two core players in Monday's win over the Detroit Pistons -- starting power forward Serge Ibaka, who was rested; and reserve point guard Fred Van Vleet, who has tightness in his lower back. There is no word yet as to whether they will be available on Wednesday, although it is assumed Ibaka will play.
Despite appearances that may suggest otherwise, Toronto's players and coaches insist they do have some things to play for on Wednesday. For starters, they would like to reach 60 victories, although 59 is already a franchise record.
"We want 60," Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said. "It would be a great achievement for our franchise."
In addition, the Raptors entered Tuesday leading the Golden State Warriors by one game in the overall NBA standings, and that could be important for home-court advantage if those two teams happen to meet in the NBA Finals.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said he believes in Toronto's talent.
"I've said it for a long time: I think they are the best team in the East," Van Gundy said. "They are the team to beat. They are a really, really good team."
The Heat, meanwhile, are not clicking at the moment.
Dragic, who leads the team in scoring (17.3) and assists (4.8), is coming off a dreadful game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. Dragic was held to four points and seven assists in a 115-93 loss, shooting just 2-of-10 from the floor.
Worse yet, Dragic and the entire Heat team got abused by Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who had 23 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists for his 25th triple-double of the season.
The Heat were outscored 39-12 in the fourth period, which was so bad it was epic. In the history of Heat home games, they have never had a worse quarter in terms of scoring margin.
Heat forward James Johnson was poked in the eye in the Thunder game, and Miami wing Josh Richardson banged his knee. However, both suggested they are fine.
Richardson, in fact, said the Heat will be motivated on Wednesday.
"It won't be hard," Richardson said when asked about intensity for Wednesday's game. "We will play for the next season (playoffs). We shouldn't need any more motivation than that."
Updated April 10, 2018