Heat still shooting for playoffs against hopeless Knicks
The Miami Heat, whose comeback win on Thursday landed them in playoff position -- for the moment at least -- hit the road on Saturday to play the New York Knicks, who have the worst record in the NBA at 14-61.
The Knicks are playing out the string this season as they dream of a summer bonanza in which they could potentially draft a difference-maker such as Zion Williamson, Ja Morant or RJ Barrett, and sign free agents such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker.
Meanwhile, with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, there are five teams closely bunched in the Eastern Conference playoff race -- the Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets and the Heat.
Only three of those squads will make the postseason, and the Heat (37-38) looked determined to qualify on Thursday, rallying to defeat the Dallas Mavericks 105-99.
Point guard Goran Dragic, starting his first game since Dec. 10 in a season slowed by a knee injury, had a rare triple-double on Thursday -- just the second of his career -- posting 23 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
He and Mavs rookie shooting guard Luka Doncic -- the only two current NBA players from Slovenia -- were supported by an estimated 2,500 fans from their home country who traveled to Miami for the game.
"It felt like we were in (Slovenian capital) Ljubljana," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
It remains to be seen if Dragic can carry the spirit he felt on Thursday throughout the rest of the season.
Of Miami's 75 games this season, Dragic has played just 29. His previous low in terms of games played was 55 in his rookie season of 2008-2009.
His per-game numbers are also in decline. He averaged 20.3 points and 5.8 assists in 2016-2017 but slipped to 17.3 points and 4.8 assists last season and 14.2 points and 4.3 assists in 2018-19.
Dragic, who turns 33 in May, had looked particularly bad in the three games before Thursday, combining to score just 11 points on 4-for-24 shooting.
But then starting guard Josh Richardson (left heel) landed on the injury report, where he joined point guard Justise Winslow (right thigh) and wing Rodney McGruder (left knee).
The Heat -- desperate to make the playoffs in the final season of retiring legend Dwyane Wade -- turned to Dragic for help, and he saved them.
The Knicks, coached by ex-Heat assistant David Fizdale, have dropped 13 of their past 14 games. They are 0-4 on their current homestand, including a 117-92 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.
All four of New York's losses in this home stretch were by at least 20 points.
One bright spot on Thursday was rookie center Mitchell Robinson, a second-round steal who came off the bench to score 19 points, grab 21 rebounds and block two shots in 31 minutes.
He became the first Knicks rookie to log 19-and-21 since Willis Reed in 1965.
Robinson made 8 of 12 field goals and 3 of 6 free throws while grabbing nine offensive rebounds.
"I knew how close I was," said Robinson, who was trying to reach the 20-20 milestone. "But my arms got tired."
The Knicks also got good news when rookie first-round pick Kevin Knox returned from a sprained ankle and former Mavs first-round point guard Dennis Smith came back after missing six games due to a back injury.
However, neither player looked good. Knox made 3 of 10 shots for nine points. Smith made 2 of 11 shots for seven points.
"The back is still sore," Fizdale said of Smith. "But he wants to go."
In the end, it was yet another loss for the Knicks, who have missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season, doing so with five different head coaches.
The last time the Knicks won at least one playoff series in consecutive seasons was in 2000.
"We don't play to lose," Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay said. "You get frustrated with the losing, but you stick with the positives."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 29, 2019