It comes down to Heat-Bulls again for East’s No. 8 seed: ‘We’re in the same position as last year’

The Miami Heat was in this same position last year.

One year ago, the Heat hosted the Chicago Bulls in a win-or-go-home play-in tournament game for the right to the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 playoff seed. The Heat won that game 102-91.

On Friday, the Heat and Bulls will face off again at Kaseya Center (7 p.m., ESPN) in an all-or-nothing play-in game. The winning team will get the East’s No. 8 playoff seed and the losing team’s season will be over before reaching the playoffs.

Heat faces elimination game, reality of no Jimmy Butler for ‘several weeks’ because of MCL injury

The Heat remembers last year’s play-in win over the Bulls as the start of a historic playoff run to the NBA Finals, going on to become the first No. 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals during a non-lockout-shortened season before falling to the Denver Nuggets in the championship series.

“I mean, we’re here,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said following Wednesday’s loss in Philadelphia. “We’re in the same position as last year and nobody expected us to do what we did last year.”

The Bulls remember last year’s season-ending play-in loss to the Heat as a painful night.

“I remember that plane ride back home vividly, everybody was just frustrated,” Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan said following Wednesday’s play-in win over the Atlanta Hawks to keep their season alive and clinch a spot in Friday’s elimination game. “That feeling sucked. I know for me that was one thing that was on my mind once I realized we were going back to Miami, not to have that same feeling.”

The Heat trailed by six points with 7:12 left in the fourth quarter of last season’s play-in game against the Bulls. But the Heat closed that game on a 26-9 run to rally and get into the playoffs behind 31-point performances from Jimmy Butler and Max Strus.

Butler won’t play Friday and will be out for the next “several weeks”, according to a league source, because of a sprained right MCL that he sustained during Wednesday’s loss to the 76ers. And Strus is now with the Cleveland Cavaliers after leaving the Heat in free agency last summer.

“Completely two different years, two different teams, two different situations,” Herro said. “You can’t really compare last year to this year. But we’ll continue to fight and get ready for Friday. That’s the only thing that we can do right now.”

The Heat and Bulls split their four-game regular-season series this season 2-2. Friday’s matchup will serve as this season’s tiebreaker and determine which team clinches the East’s final playoff spot to face the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

“We’re going to rest up, treat up, rally around each other, get ready for Friday and again embrace these competitive games,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It will be competitive in front of our home fans and then we’re going to bring a hell of a game on Friday night and do this the hard way. That’s just the way the deal is right now.”


Heat forward Duncan Robinson was in uniform and available for Wednesday’s play-in loss to the 76ers after missing the final four games of the regular season with a lingering back injury labeled as left facet syndrome.

But Robinson still did not play Wednesday despite being a regular in the rotation this season prior to the back issue. Why? Because Robinson is still ramping up after missing time.

Robinson is listed as probable for Friday’s game against the Bulls.

“Every day that he gets, he’s going to make progress and that’s really what it was,” Spoelstra said when asked about not playing Robinson on Wednesday. “We don’t have a whole lot of time for ramp up, so he hasn’t had those opportunities. But we’ll see how he feels when we get to Miami. I think each step, he’ll feel better and we’ll take it from there.

Robinson, who has started in each of his last 17 appearances, initially missed five games last month with the back issue before returning to play in five games and then again being sidelined by the injury for the final four games of the regular season.

As a three-point threat, Robinson is a big part of the Heat’s offense when he’s healthy. He shot 39.5 percent on seven three-point attempts per game this regular season.

“He’s definitely making progress,” Spoelstra said Wednesday regarding Robinson’s status. “That’s what’s encouraging.”


Before getting hot and scoring 16 points in Wednesday’s fourth quarter, Herro totaled just nine points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field and 1-of-8 shooting from three-point range in the first three quarters of the Heat’s loss to the 76ers.

“There’s moments through games and throughout the season, you have bad shooting nights,” said Herro, who ended up scoring a team-high 25 points and logging a team-high 41 minutes on Wednesday. “I tried to just stay engaged as best as I could. Obviously, I would have loved to have made those shots. But I can’t make all of them. I tried to stay engaged, compete on the defensive end and make plays for my teammates when I could.”