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No rest for the weary, but Heat scoff at playoff outlook vs. Bucks being dreary

Typically the NBA playoffs don’t come at you fast, at least not the first round, with at least a five-day break following the regular-season finale.

But for the Miami Heat, this has not been a typical path, forced to play through two play-in tournament games on Tuesday and Friday after last Sunday’s emotional final regular-season game for 20-year team stalwart Udonis Haslem.

And now … immediately on to a best-of-seven opening-round playoff series against the No. 1 Eastern Conference seed Milwaukee Bucks that opens at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Fiserv Forum.

“It’s like you have all these emotions and this competitive week, this week, just with two games, three games if you count UD’s, the emotions and everything,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It feels like we’re in round two already. And we just earned the right now to start the playoffs.”

Friday’s 102-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls at Kaseya Center allowed for this next step, a game the Heat trailed by six midway through the fourth quarter.

So little time to exhale. But also little choice.

“This is the moment a lot of guys dream of,” center Bam Adebayo said of advancing to the playoffs. “A lot of the guys want to be in the playoffs who don’t get that luxury. That’s earned. You don’t take that for granted.”

As challenging as it was to rebound from Tuesday’s night’s 116-105 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at the start of the play-in round and then push past the Bulls, this is a challenge at a whole other level.

The Bucks secured the No. 1 seed with an NBA-best 58-24 record. The Heat arrive as the No. 8 seed coming off a 44-38 regular season.

Spoelstra said there is nothing wrong with playing the underdog card, but acknowledged it will take far more.

“I don’t know, it might be different for each guy,” he said. “At the end of the day, different kinds of motivations can have a little bit of a purpose. But ultimately we have a bigger purpose that we’re trying to do and we understand who’s in front of us.

“We have great competitors in the locker room, though, and we’re grateful that we have this opportunity to line up against them. This has been a pretty harrowing week, and I think our guys earned this opportunity.”

The extra work left Jimmy Butler exhausted after going a game-high 42:53 against the Bulls, had Adebayo shaking off a blow to the head from Patrick Beverley, had Kevin Love hopeful of escaping concussion protocol after his head banged to the court when fouled, but most significantly had Kyle Lowry off the court for the final 9:51, as his balky left knee acted up again.

Last season, in the Heat’s run as the East top seed to within one victory of the NBA Finals, Lowry was limited from the start of the postseason by a strained left hamstring, Now it is the knee that had the 37-year-old point guard sidelined for a month at midseason before a March 11 return.

“I’m good. Just a little tweak, little pressure on it,” Lowry said. “But I’m OK. All good. I’m ready to go on Sunday. If coach would have asked me to go back in the game, I would have gone back in the game.”

With Lowry limited, and with point guard Gabe Vincent still visibly pained by a hip pointer sustained Tuesday, it would further increase the odds against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and a Bucks roster with visions that extend far beyond the first round.

“They’re well rested. You’ve got an MVP over there. They got All-NBA in Jrue Holiday. They’ve got possibly one of the best defenders, in Brook Lopez. They’ve got a great crowd,” Lowry said. “For us, we’ve got to go out there and be focused on what we can do and go play basketball.”

While facing the steepest of odds, with BetOnLine posting the Bucks as a 1-to-12 favorite (92.3% chance) to win the series, the Heat’s odds listed as 15-to-2. The initial betting line opened with Milwaukee a 9 1/2-point favorite in Sunday’s Game 1.

“I think we can win. But I’m never going to say we’re going to lose. But we’ve got to play right,” Butler said. “You’re talking about MVP in G.A., all the shooting, how together they are. They’re been together for a while. It’s going to be tough. It is.

“Let this season go, let this play-in go, Zero-zero and get to work.”

Series schedule

Game 1: Sunday, 5:30 p.m., Fiserv Forum (TNT, Bally Sports Sun)

Game 2: Wednesday, 9 p.m., Fiserv Forum (NBA TV, Bally Sports Sun)

Game 3: April 22, 7:30 p.m. Kaseya Center (ESPN, Bally Sports Sun)

Game 4: April 24, Time TBA, Kaseya Center (Bally Sports Sun)

Game 5*: April 26, Time TBA, Fiserv Forum (Bally Sports Sun)

Game 6*: April 28, Time TBA, Kaseya Center (Bally Sports Sun)

Game 7*: April 30, Time TBA, Fiserv Forum (TV TBA)

* – if necessary

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Source: Berkshire mont

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