Heat, Thunder seek momentum as playoffs approach

NBA

The last time the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder met, way back in mid-January in Oklahoma City, it looked like both teams’ rosters were about to change significantly.

The Thunder, looking toward a rebuild after offseason trades sent Russell Westbrook and Paul George away, were eyeing the future while the Heat were trying to bolster their roster for a playoff run.

But the rumored deal never took place between the sides that would have sent Danilo Gallinari to Miami.

Oklahoma City held on to Gallinari and has become one of the surprises of this NBA season, going 43-27 heading into the penultimate game of the regular season.

For the Heat, the game could be their only break from facing the Indiana Pacers for a couple weeks.

The Heat and Pacers could wind up playing as many as in nine of 10 games if, as expected, they meet in the first round of the playoffs.

“You can get caught up in all that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re trying to get our guys together, get in rhythm, get prepared for the playoffs. We’re not even certain we’ll play Indiana, so you have to proceed and do what you think is best for the team.”

The Heat comes into the game a game up on Indiana for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Miami broke a two-game losing streak with Monday’s win over the Pacers and is 3-3 in seeding games.

It was an important win to put the Heat on the doorstep of clinching the No. 4 seed, but it also was important because of the return of Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic from injuries.

Miami could get rookie guard Kendrick Nunn back for Wednesday’s game after he missed two games when he left the bubble for personal reasons.

While Nunn has started every game in which he has been available this season, Spoelstra could shake up his lineup with Nunn’s return.

Nunn is shooting just 7 of 30 from the floor and 4 of 18 on 3-pointers in his last three games.

The Thunder come into the game just a half-game ahead of Utah for fifth in the Western Conference.

While the Thunder’s playoff opponent is still very much up in the air, Oklahoma City is starting to look toward the playoffs.

In Monday’s loss to Phoenix, the second of a back-to-back set, Billy Donovan sat out three starters and backup center Nerlens Noel with minor ailments.

The Thunder could get Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel back for Wednesday’s game, though they’ll once again be without backup point guard Dennis Schroder.

Schroder has missed the last five games after leaving the bubble for the birth of his second child but recently returned.

With players missing time recently, rookie Darius Bazley has emerged as a key piece of the rotation.

Since the restart, Bazley is shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 49 percent from behind the 3-point line.

Bazley hadn’t scored more than 17 points in a game before the season paused, but he has scored a combined 45 points over the last two games.

“He shot the ball better,” Donovan said, “because he’s taking better shots.”

–Field Level Media

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