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Game #77: Miami Heat (53-23) vs. New Jersey Nets (23-52)

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With only a handful of games left before the playoffs, the Miami Heat enter the stretch run of the regular season still having a few goals to try and accomplish.  Heading into Sunday's games, the Heat still have a shot at the top spot in the Eastern Conference, though it isn't likely.  They sit 3 games back of 1st place Chicago with 6 games to go, and with the Bulls holding the tie-breaker, it seems like the #2 seed is a much more realistic possibility. 

Currently, Miami is all alone in 2nd place with a half-game lead over Boston. The Heat and Celtics have been going in opposite directions over the past few weeks, which is why Miami has been able to quickly close the gap and catch up to the defending Eastern Conference champs.   Going back to early March, the Heat was dealing with a 5-game losing streak while Boston had won 5 straight.  That's when things suddenly began to change.

Miami's losing streak ended on March 8th, and since then they have gone 10-2.  Meanwhile, the Celtics string of consecutive wins ended on March 9th and they have since gone just 6-8.  Of their 7 remaining regular season games, 4 are against playoff teams.  The Heat have just 6 games left on their schedule with 2 coming against teams bound for the post season.  Also, Miami and Boston will meet one more time...next Sunday afternoon at the AAA.

A win this afternoon over the Nets could be pretty significant for the Heat, regardless of what happens with the Celtics.  Miami holds a 5 game lead over the Orlando Magic and can clinch the Southeast Division with a win and an Orlando loss tonight in Toronto.  Should the Magic win, the Heat can still clinch by winning today and again on Wednesday against Milwaukee.  It would be the first time since 2006-07 that Miami captured the division crown and could add another banner to the bunch hanging in the AAA rafters.

GAME NOTES

  • Over their last 5 games, Dwyane Wade is averaging 31.6 points and LeBron James is putting up 30.8. 
  • This is the 3rd and final meeting between the Heat and Nets this season.  Miami has won the first two, scoring 101 points in both wins while giving up an average of 83.5.
  • Miami has won 9 of their last 10 games over the Nets and are looking for their second consecutive season sweep.
  • Should the Heat win, they will be the 5th team to sweep the Nets this season.
  • This will be the first time that the Heat will play New Jersey since they acquired Deron Williams at the trade deadline. 
  • Overall the Heat has won 10 of their last 12 while New Jersey has gone in the opposite direction, losing 5 straight and 9 of 10. 
  • Udonis Haslem (foot) is out for Miami while Mario Chalmers (knee) and Mike Miller (knee) are questionable. 
  • As for the Nets, Kris Humphries (ankle) is questionable while Damion James (foot) and Sundiata Gaines (hip) are out.

Tipoff from the Prudential Center is set for 6pm.  After this one, Miami will have a few days off, as their next game isn't until Wednesday when they host Milwaukee at the AAA.