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Miami Heat Need a Statement Game for a Home-Stretch Playoff Run

Michael PintoSenior Writer IMarch 4, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dwayne Wade #3 of the Miami Heat share a laugh in the fourth quarter at Staples Center on December 4, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Heat 108-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Miami Heat are sitting near the bottom of a tight race for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference. Beyond Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, and Atlanta, a group of average teams have been rotating through seeds five through eight trying to figure out who's going to lose to which contender in round one. 

The Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Bobcats are separated by two-and-a-half games for the fifth and ninth seeds, respectively. Between them the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, and Heat round out the nine teams fighting for eight playoff spots.

All of them are basically .500 clubs that struggle on the road with the exception of Miami, who is decent on the road but struggles at home. In the West, they'd be competing for the 12th through 16th seeds.

But in the East, the Conference is a cakewalk past the top four. It’s as simple as that. Chicago admitted as much when they dumped salary to make room for free agency this summer; that's been Miami's plan for the last two seasons.

Milwaukee's trying to get by without Michael Redd, Toronto's just trying to hold onto Chris Bosh, and Charlotte has pretty much tapered off since their hot start to the new year. 

From where the Heat sit, an idle approach to the last 21 games of the season could result in embarrassment. This team went 43-39 a year ago and finished with the fifth seed. For a roster that was supposed to improve after the offseason, to drop out of the playoffs will issue major concerns about the franchise. The Heat can't explain missing the playoffs against second-tier competition.

It wouldn't help the franchise's case in free agency either, let alone their dealings with Wade. 

Eight of Miami's next nine games will be at home, starting with a visit from the L.A. Lakers on Thursday night. With contests against the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats coming up, the next few games will likely cause a noticeable shift in the Heat's playoff positioning. Which way remains to be seen.                                          

With Kobe Bryant and Co. coming into town, Wade needs to get his crew ready for what should be an interesting rematch. On Dec. 4 the Lakers escaped with a 108-107 victory in the Staples Center against an unexpectedly competitive Heat team.

It was a game Miami should have won but let slip away at the finish. They'll look to take one back from the Lakers this time around.

If you don't watch Dwyane Wade play much, just know this: The bigger the game, the bigger he plays. Wade loves contests with guys like Kobe or LeBron and puts on some of his most memorable performances against them. Thursday's game needs to be one of those moments.

When he's at his best, Wade elevates the entire Heat team to another level. A roster that has struggled to maintain success all year has at times shown its potential with wins against top-tier teams like the Magic, Hawks, Nuggets, and Jazz.

The Heat also lost a tough overtime game to the Boston Celtics on Jan. 6; Rajon Rondo made an incredible tip-in of an inbounds pass with 0.6 seconds to play to tie the game before the Celtics went on to win.

A couple weeks later Miami failed to hold off the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 92-91 crushing loss at home. Throughout the year, this team has shown they're capable of stepping up against big opponents.

Thursday needs to be one of those times. The Heat come into the contest off a 112-106 victory over a very bad Golden State Warriors team on Tuesday. Before then, though, Miami had dropped four in a row and were starting to crumble.

The Lakers are 8-2 in their last 10 games, and have a six-game lead on the rest of the Western Conference. A victory against an opponent like that could be just what a struggling Heat team needs to finish the season strong.

Beat L.A. and the momentum shifts for Atlanta's Saturday visit. Win again, and maybe the ball starts rolling. Miami needs something to get it going, something to build from. All year head coach Eric Spoelstra has been looking for that defining moment.

It'll be staring them in the face on Thursday. All the Heat need to do is win this time. 

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