Playoff chase officially begins for Heat

Postseason race heats up for Miami

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh thought they had an enjoyable time during the NBA's All-Star Weekend in New York.

Well, now the real fun begins.

After a weeklong break from the rigors of the everyday grind, the Heat start their playoff race once the intermission officially concludes Wednesday. They will have two days of practice before facing the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

"We're in a 30-game string now," Bosh said following Sunday's All-Star Game. "Now that we've gotten this out of the way, we can have a couple days off. Now, we can kind of just really focus in and lock in on what we need to lock in on, get healthy and get out there and compete."

At 22-30, the Heat hold the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets are all within at least two games, so there is little room for error the remainder of the season.

"For us, coming in back into the season, I think we have to not look at our record and not worry about what our record is but focus on the 30 games and focus on playing better," Wade said.

For Wade, the focus is also on health. He skipped the All-Star Game so he could further rehab his hamstrings. Wade missed the seven games before the break and hasn't played since sustaining the injury against the Milwaukee Bucks Jan. 27.

Wade, who worked with a personal trainer while in New York, is expected to play against the Knicks.

"He's getting healthy, ready to attack the second half," Bosh said. "We're looking forward to having him back. We need his leadership and his offensive and defensive capability. If we get a good dosage of that, I think that will really help us out a lot to move forward."

Bosh used the break to put an inconsistent first half of the season in the rearview. The Heat never won more than three straight games. Injuries to key players, including losing forward Josh McRoberts for the season, prevented them from establish any type of rhythm.

"Sometimes, you just have to reset," Bosh said. "If things are going well or if things aren't going well, you have to let your body rest. Sometimes you've got to step away from the game and that's when you get the most ideas."

With Wade and Bosh healthy and the emergence of center Hassan Whiteside, the Heat have all their key cogs in place. Friday's game should feature the healthiest Heat team in recent months.

"We still have high expectations for ourselves," Bosh said. "We're going to be in the race. That's something to play for. To be able to control our destiny, despite all that other stuff that's happened, I think that's a good thing. Just moving forward, we have to make sure to keep that in mind that we are in a good position. We can't get down on ourselves."

Having no expectations is perhaps the Heat's biggest ally. Few figured they would contend once LeBron James left last summer. They no longer face the pressure of being a team favored to win the championship.

They feel a relaxed environment should make this stretch easier to manage.

"We should be loose," Bosh said. "We don't have anything to lose. Moving forward, we should just go out there relaxed with no pressure and just play ball … We just have to sharpen what we're good at and drop the things that we're not good at. Everybody is going to have to play at a very high level and we're going to have to do that together."

srichardson@tribpub.com

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