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Heat continue playoff push with rematch vs. Knicks

MIAMI -- South Florida fans won't get a very appealing matchup on Friday when the Miami Heat host the lowly New York Knicks at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Miami (37-38) defeated the Knicks (28-47) on Wednesday night in New York, producing a rather easy 105-88 victory in which a "Let's Go Heat" chant was loudly heard at Madison Square Garden.

Now, here comes the rematch.

The Heat are tied with the Indiana Pacers (37-38) for the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and are looking at a possible first-round playoff battle against the Boston Celtics or the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Chicago Bulls (36-39) sit a game behind Miami and Indiana.

"Our guys embrace what's at hand," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Miami's playoff chase. "We embrace this challenge and enjoy it."

The Heat have seven games left in the regular season, and the final four could be particularly difficult with two games against the Washington Wizards and one each against the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland.

All three of those teams are safely in the playoffs, each among the top four in the East. But what remains to be seen is if those games against Miami will mean anything to them in terms of seeding or if their respective coaches will use them to rest their stars.

And while the Heat are preparing for yet another important stretch of games, the Knicks -- as has become their custom -- are already thinking about the draft and free agency.

That loss on Wednesday eliminated New York from playoff contention for the fourth straight season. It was a mathematical elimination for a Knicks team that had been counted out by virtually everyone many weeks ago in a nightmare trend that has continued for over a decade now.

In fact, since the 2000-2001 season, the Knicks have won just one playoff series, which is tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for the fewest among any NBA franchise. Also during that span, the Knicks have won just 41.8 percent of their games, a record that is the third worst in the league. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets have been worse.

Knicks power forward Kristaps Porzingis has been, pretty clearly, bitterly disappointed with his team's performance.

"I thought we would be in the playoff race," Porzingis told the media after Wednesday's loss. "I thought we would be the six, seven or eight seed, but things didn't go like we wanted."

Things are so bad for the Knicks that forward Carmelo Anthony -- the team's superstar -- took just two shots in a scoreless first half against Miami and finished with just nine points.

"I don't think me going out and trying to score 30 or 40 points every night is going to help the team in the long run," Anthony told the media. "I'm just here to help those (young) guys."

With Anthony playing a subservient role and starting point guard Derrick Rose sitting out with a sore left knee, Miami took full advantage and is favored to do so again Friday.

The Knicks, who have lost nine of their past 11 games, should be an easy mark for the Heat.

Even if Rose is back for New York on Friday -- which Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said was probable -- it is likely not enough to derail a Heat team that is playing for something significant.

With a win on Friday, the Heat would become the first NBA team ever to reach .500 after a start that led them to 19 games underwater. It would also be the most wins (38) of any NBA team that at one point was 19 games below .500, breaking the record it now shares with the 2013-2014 Knicks.

The Heat, which is expected to get shooting guard Dion Waiters back from an ankle injury shortly, is 26-8 since the halfway point of the season. The Cavaliers, their possible first-round playoff opponents, are just 17-15 during that span.

Updated March 31, 2017

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