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Heat take care of business with 125-103 victory over Raptors, but still need (lots of) help in seedings race

MIAMI – The hope remains there for an escape from the play-in round for the Miami Heat after they took care of business with a 125-103 victory Friday night over the Toronto Raptors at Kaseya Center.

But the odds remain unsettling.

Basically, if everything plays out to form on Sunday’s closing day of the NBA regular season, the Heat will finish No. 8 in the East and open their postseason with a Wednesday night road play-in game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The only escape hatch for the Heat is pairing a Sunday victory over the Raptors with a Sunday loss by the Orlando Magic to the Milwaukee Bucks  . . . and either a Sunday loss by the 76ers to the Brooklyn Nets or a Sunday loss by the Indiana Pacers to the Atlanta Hawks.

“It was important to win this one and the next one for sure,” forward Nikola Jovic said. “And then whatever happens, happens.”

As for Friday’s game, the Heat did as needed against an opponent heading to the lottery with the NBA’s sixth-worst record.

From the Heat there were 22 points from Nikola Jovic, 20 from Jaime Jaquez Jr., 19 from Bam Adebayo, 17 from Tyler Herro and 14 from Jimmy Butler.

“You’re just living the present moment,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have a lot to work on with us.

“This was a step, for sure.”

So on to Sunday’s season finale against the Raptors back at Kaseya Center it is, with control of the Heat’s postseason scheduling in the hands of others.

“We’re going to play Sunday and we’re going to figure out the rest,” Adebayo said.

Five Degrees of Heat from Friday night’s game:

1. Playoff race: With the Heat winning and the Magic losing Friday on the road to the 76ers, it kept the Heat No. 8 in the East, but also slightly opened the door for the Heat to move out of the play-in bracket and into the top six in the East and direct entry into the best-of-seven opening round of the playoffs.

With Friday night’s victory, the 76ers remain in control of homecourt advantage in a potential Heat-76ers play-in game, with the opportunity to assure themselves of at least that much with a victory Sunday over the Nets.

“We’re not talking a lot about it,” Jovic said of scoreboard watching. “I just feel like you’ve got to go day by day.”

2. Game flow:  The Heat led 33-22 after the first period and 66-50 at half.

The Heat then pushed their lead to 21 in the third period, before going into the fourth quarter up 92-75.

From there, the Heat extended their lead in the fourth quarter and were able to rest their rotation players in favor of Alondes Williams, Jamal Cain, Cole Swider and Orlando Robinson.

“For sure in the first half we set the tone, just with the ball and player movement,” Spoelstra said.

3. The Jovic thing: With Butler and Adebayo came around from uneven performances in Wednesday night’s home loss to the Dallas Mavericks, it was Jovic who continues to emerge as a revelation.

In spacing the floor with three 3-pointers, he was up to 19 points by the time he headed to the bench in the third quarter.

“He’s making it hard not to play him,” Adebayo said.

Jovic closed 9 of 18 from the field, including 4 of 10 on 3-pointers.”

“He and Bam are unique because they both can handle, they both can pass,” Spoelstra said. “That kind of size and habits, those things defensively help our team.”

Of whether Jovic could keep a similar role in the playoff rotation, Spoelstra said, “It’s already happening. But you just don’t know until you get to the playoffs.”

Jovic said the way the ball moved, with the Heat closing with 37 assists to seven turnovers, was particularly encouraging.

“That’s what it was all about at the morning practice,” Jovic said of the ball movement.

4. The three thing: Amid the absences of Robinson and Rozier, and amid the Heat’s need for replacement 3-point shooting, Butler and Adebayo both converted first-half 3-pointers.

For Adebayo, it was the 11th time he converted at least one 3-pointer in his last 18 games.

Butler later converted a second 3-pointer.

“I feel like it just makes us more dynamic,” Adebayo said of his 3-point attempts.

The Heat’s fourth 3-pointer gave them 4,000 for the season. It is the second time the team has eclipsed, also with 1,114 in 2021-22.

5. One more time: While the Raptors fielded a competitive starting lineup of RJ Barrett, Gradey Dick, Kelly Olynyk, Gary Trent Jr. and  Immanuel Quickley, Toronto’s approach is expected to change for Sunday’s rematch.

As with most teams locked into a specific playoff seed, or, in the Raptors’ case, the lottery, Toronto is expected to sit their rotation players in the season finale to not risk final-game injuries.

That, in turn, could have all five of the Raptors’ Friday starters idle Sunday.

The Heat, by contrast, still will have playing positioning at stake, with Friday’s cast expected back Sunday.

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