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Kyle Lowry not starting, but again closing for Heat. Also, Erik Spoelstra’s milestone and more

Miami Heat veteran point guard Kyle Lowry may not be starting games anymore, but he has been closing them lately.

While being used in a bench role for the first time in a decade, Lowry has played the entire fourth quarter in two straight games. He has totaled eight points on three field-goal attempts, three rebounds, seven assists, zero turnovers and a plus/minus of plus-20 while playing the entirety of the last two fourth quarters.

“Just go out there and try to help my team win,” Lowry said of his fourth-quarter mindset following Wednesday’s 127-120 win over the New York Knicks at Miami-Dade Arena. “It’s easy when you got guys like Jimmy [Butler] and Tyler [Herro] and Bam [Adebayo] on the floor. It’s a lot easier for me to just make decisions and put the ball in their hands and make sure that they’re getting to spots and then let those guys do the rest. For me, it’s just about being able to help the team no matter what it is.”

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Lowry has done exactly that in the last two fourth quarters and in most of the minutes he has been on the court since returning on March 11 from left knee soreness that forced him to miss 15 straight games.

Lowry, who is in his 17th NBA season and turns 37 on Saturday, has averaged 10 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 17 of 29 (58.6 percent) from the field and 11 of 19 (57.9 percent) from three-point range in five games as a reserve since returning from injury. He’s a plus-23 in that time and the Heat is 4-1 in those games.

Prior to these five games off the bench, Lowry started in his first 44 appearances of the season. In fact, Lowry had started in 677 straight appearances as part of a streak that dated back to January 2013 before this latest stint as a reserve.

“That’s who Low is, who he’s always been,” Butler said. “It doesn’t matter what role you ask him to play, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench. He’s going to play to win, he’s going to play the right way, he’s going to try to get everybody the basketball, he’s going to be communicating at an extremely high level.

“It’s great that he’s back and he’s our quarterback because he’s going to make sure that we win games down the stretch. He’s going to take and make big shots, he’s going to get the ball to who needs to have the ball and he is also a huge reason in why we won [Wednesday’s] game.”

The Heat’s plan since Lowry returned from injury is to keep him around 20 minutes per game as he regains his rhythm and conditioning. This reduced role is designed to keep Lowry healthy and fresh after dealing with lingering pain in his left knee for most of the season.

So far, so good for Lowry and the Heat as coach Erik Spoelstra has continued to make sure to save a chunk of his minutes for the fourth quarter recently.

Lowry was shooting just 39.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range this season before returning from injury two weeks ago.

“Just getting us in sets, slowing us down, getting us to cohesive triggers and he’s being so vocal right now,” Adebayo said of Lowry’s value. “It’s vital for our team. It’s the end of the year. He had some time off, so I feel like he’s really fresh. It’s good to have a fresh Kyle Lowry out there.”

A SPOELSTRA MILESTONE

Wednesday’s win over the Knicks marked Spoelstra’s 700th regular-season win as a head coach.

Spoelstra is the fourth coach in NBA history to win at least 700 games with one team. Gregg Popovich is at 1,363 wins with the San Antonio Spurs, Jerry Sloan had 1,127 with the Utah Jazz and Red Auerbach had 795 with the Boston Celtics.

WADE WATCHING ON

With Heat icon Dwyane Wade sitting courtside for Wednesday’s home win over the Knicks, Butler put on a show for his close friend with 35 points, four rebounds, nine assists and four steals.

“So much respect for what he’s done in his career, obviously what he’s done for here,” Butler said of playing in front of Wade. “But he’s constantly in my ear. Half the time it’s not even about basketball, it’s about family. We both got daughters. We’re just fortunate. I always want to make him proud, so I love him to death and I’m glad he could see us get a [win].”

The Heat posted on Twitter a postgame selfie photo that Spoelstra captured standing alongside Adebayo, Udonis Haslem and Wade following Wednesday’s victory.

THIS AND THAT

The Heat’s “4 Days of 40” celebration of Haslem’s career began Thursday with Haslem appearing at Jr. Heat Spring Camp at SLAM Miami High School. The Heat will host “UD Night” during Saturday’s home game against the Brooklyn Nets, when it will unveil a newly dedicated “Section 305” at Miami-Dade Arena to honor Haslem.

This marks Haslem’s 20th and final NBA season before entering retirement.

The Heat and Knicks combined for 247 points on Wednesday, which is the third-most points in their 133-game all-time regular-season series. It marks the most points since they combined for 249 points on Feb. 23, 1990.

After totaling 35 points in Wednesday’s fourth quarter against the Knicks, the Heat has scored at least 30 points in the fourth quarter in eight of its last 11 games. Miami entered Thursday with the NBA’s fourth-best fourth-quarter offensive rating (scoring 121.2 points per 100 possessions) in 15 games since the All-Star break.