Play-off hopes alive as heat defeat Cavs

Miami Heat's Josh Richardson dunks during the 124-121 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers at American Airlines Arena. Richardson, a second-year guard, has taken on much of the burden in the prolonged absence of starting guard Dion Waiters, who ha
Miami Heat's Josh Richardson dunks during the 124-121 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers at American Airlines Arena. Richardson, a second-year guard, has taken on much of the burden in the prolonged absence of starting guard Dion Waiters, who has missed the last 11 games with an ankle sprain.PHOTO: REUTERS

Miami seal three-point victory in overtime as reigning champions opt to rest James, Irving

MIAMI • The Miami Heat kept their National Basketball Association (NBA) play-off hopes alive on Monday with a 124-121 overtime victory over Cleveland that dropped the NBA champions to second in the Eastern Conference.

The Cavaliers, locked in a duel with the Boston Celtics for the top seed in the East, nevertheless rested stars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Miami. Cleveland are 0-7 without James this season.

"The most important thing is for us to give those guys a rest," said Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, amid reports that James has a slight calf injury and Irving has been bothered by a knee issue. "They have carried the load all season."

Cleveland (51-30) suffered their second overtime defeat in as many days, having squandered a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in a stunning loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. Against the Heat, they took a 91-80 lead into the fourth, but Miami stormed back to force overtime and claim the win.

"It's a testament to our season," Heat guard Josh Richardson said, referring to the team's 11-30 start and everything Miami has overcome. "We had a lot of injuries and a lot of losses. But we fought back."

Tyler Johnson had 24 points and Hassan Whiteside added 23 and 18 rebounds for the Heat (40-41).

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    Cleveland's win-loss record without Lebron James in their line-up.

Deron Williams, starting at point guard in place of Irving, led Cleveland with 35 points. Kevin Love added 25 with 10 rebounds before he fouled out with 34 seconds left in overtime.

With the Celtics beating the Brooklyn Nets 114-105, the defeat dropped the Cavs one game behind Boston (52-29) for first place in the East.

James has said he is not concerned about the top seed, and team-mate Kyle Korver said on Monday that the Cavs just want to get the post-season under way.

"I think we've shown that when we're focused we're a really good team," Korver said.

The Celtics, however, are eager to go into the post-season as the top team in the East. Clapping could be heard from the TD Garden locker room, where Boston players were tuned in after their win on Monday.

"Yeah, we were watching a little bit of it," said Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who scored 13 points against the Nets. "We're aware of what's going on, and hopefully we can get the No. 1 seed."

They need a home win over the Milwaukee Bucks today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) or a home loss by Cleveland to the Toronto Raptors the same night to clinch the top seed.

For the Heat, the victory means they will be fighting with the Indiana Pacers (41-40) and Chicago Bulls (40-41) for the last two play-off spots in the East. Miami will need to win their regular-season finale today against the visiting Washington Wizards, to have any hope of making the postseason.

The Heat are 3-0 against Washington this season. But even with a win over the Wizards, Miami still need a loss by the Pacers or the Bulls against the Hawks and the Nets respectively.

In Oakland, the Utah Jazz defeated Golden State 105-99, snapping the Warriors' 14-game NBA winning streak.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr opted to play safe with his key players, resting Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green late while Klay Thompson sat out altogether.

The Warriors are already assured of top seed in the West and home-court advantage throughout the play-offs.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Play-off hopes alive as heat defeat Cavs'. Print Edition | Subscribe