Heat Looking For Home Court

Despite winning their division, the Miami Heat are unlikely to get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Indiana Pacers would be happy playing anywhere in the postseason.

The Heat expect to see Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade together in their starting lineup for the first time in nearly two months on Friday as they try to deal the Pacers a big blow to their playoff hopes.

Oddsmakers have made Miami -5.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 185 total points (View NBA Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 73% of bets for this game have been placed on Miami -5.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Miami's chances of having the home-court edge in the opening round could end Friday if it loses this game while Toronto defeats Detroit.

Indiana, meanwhile, is within one game of Orlando for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers (35-43) do own the tiebreaker with the Magic, who have the night off Friday.

"We're the hunters," Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. "We're trying to stay in this thing and it's not going to be easy."

The Heat (43-36) could have had a much easier path to a postseason home-court advantage if they weren't swept in a home-and-home set with the lowly Charlotte Bobcats earlier this week.

Those were Wade's first two games back in action after missing six weeks with a dislocated shoulder. He came off the bench in his return and was back starting the next game, though he wasn't joined by O'Neal because the All-Star center left the team due to the death of his grandfather.

Just hours after the funeral Wednesday, O'Neal returned to the team but was inactive as Miami clinched the Southeast Division title with an 85-82 victory over Washington.

"This year has been up and down. We have been struggling all year with the injuries," said Antoine Walker, who led Miami with 19 points. "To battle back from six games under .500, to come back and win the division is a tremendous confidence boost for everybody.

"Obviously our hopes and goals are to win another title."

That may only be possible if Wade starts producing more like the superstar that was last year's NBA finals MVP. Admitting to being limited by the shoulder injury, Wade has averaged 14.0 points while committing 17 turnovers in three games since returning.

"I feel like my game is coming back. If I can just stop turning the ball over, I'll be alright," Wade said. "It's coming back. I'm glad I came back two games before so that I can get all the rust out and going into the playoffs ready."

Getting Wade back on the same page with O'Neal also could make a big difference. They haven't started in the same game since Feb. 21 at Houston.

O'Neal was a big reason Miami did so well when Wade was sidelined, averaging 19.3 points and 7.9 rebounds as the team went 16-7.

During nearly the same time period, the Pacers endured a 2-17 stretch that devastated their playoff chances. Indiana, though, has bounced back to win four of six.

Miami could play a big role in the Pacers' hopes because it closes the regular season at Orlando on Wednesday. None of Indiana's final three opponents have winning records - New Jersey, Atlanta and Washington.

A victory Friday will give Indiana the season series for the fifth straight year. The Heat have lost 20 of the last 25 meetings, including playoffs, but have won two straight in Miami.

Wade averaged 32.5 points as the teams split the first two meetings, but sat out the most recent one on March 23 and O'Neal was Miami's only double-figure scorer with 13 points in a 95-70 loss at Indiana.

Danny Granger led the Pacers with 22 points - his average in the season series - and teammate Mike Dunleavy added 20.

That pair of former first-round picks keyed Indiana's most recent win, 104-98 at Milwaukee on Wednesday. Dunleavy scored 25 points and Granger added 18 to go with a career-high 10 assists as the Pacers won for the second time in three road games after losing 11 straight.

"To come back and try and sneak in (to the playoffs) would be big," Dunleavy said. "We have our work cut out for us but we still have a chance."

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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