Butler, Williamson injuries are part of story for Heat-Bulls and Kings-Pelicans play-in finales


MIAMI (AP) — When injuries affect the Miami Heat, coach Erik Spoelstra almost always delivers the same three-word outlook.

“We have enough,” he says.

That theory is about to be tested — and will be a theme in the NBA’s win-or-go-home finales of the play-in tournament on Friday night.

All four teams — Miami and Chicago in the Eastern Conference, New Orleans and Sacramento in the Western Conference — have serious injury concerns going into their matchups to decide the No. 8 seeds on the playoff bracket. Miami and New Orleans have home-court edges Friday; the winners will face No. 1 Boston and No. 1 Oklahoma City in Round 1, starting Sunday.

The Heat are bracing to be without Jimmy Butler, Terry Rozier and possibly Duncan Robinson for their game against the Bulls, who had guard Alex Caruso go down to a sprained ankle in Wednesday’s win over Atlanta.

The Pelicans will be without Zion Williamson because of a hamstring injury in their game against the Kings, a team that’s been without would-be starters Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk in recent weeks because of injuries.

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

The Bulls-Heat game is a rematch of the East play-in finale last year, a game where Chicago led by three with 3:47 left and got outscored 15-1 the rest of the way.

“I remember that plane ride back home vividly,” Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan said. “Everybody was just frustrated. That feeling sucked. I know for me, that’s one thing that’s on my mind once I realized we were going back to Miami — to not have that same feeling.”

Sacramento got into the West play-in finale by ousting Golden State on Tuesday. New Orleans missed a chance to be the West’s No. 7 seed by falling to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.



NO. 9 CHICAGO (39-43, 1-0) AT NO. 8 MIAMI (46-36, 0-1)

Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN

Season series: Split, 2-2

Play-in appearances: 2nd for Miami (2023), 2nd for Chicago (2023).

At stake: Winner plays No. 1 seed Boston in Round 1, series starting Sunday. Loser is eliminated.

Outlook: Here they go again. Just like last year, it’s Chicago at Miami with the No. 8 seed in the East on the line in an elimination game. The Heat have huge injury issues with Jimmy Butler, Terry Rozier and Duncan Robinson ailing, and the Bulls had to finish Wednesday’s game without Alex Caruso. No Bulls team has gone to the playoffs with a losing regular-season record since the 1986-87 team did it at 40-42.


NO. 9 SACRAMENTO (46-36, 1-0) AT NO. 7 NEW ORLEANS (49-33, 0-1)

Friday, 9:30 p.m., TNT

Season series: Pelicans, 5-0 (includes one In-Season Tournament win)

Play-in appearances: 1st for Sacramento; 3rd for New Orleans (2022, 2023).

At stake: Winner plays No. 1 seed Oklahoma City in Round 1, series starting Sunday. Loser is eliminated.

Outlook: One way or another, New Orleans will make history on Friday. Either the Pelicans will become the first team to go 6-0 in a season (without a playoff series) against an opponent since Denver against Minnesota in 1994-95, or will become the second team in NBA history to go 49-33 or better and not make the playoffs (joining the 1971-72 Phoenix Suns, who went 49-33). The Pelicans will be without the injured Zion Williamson (hamstring) and the Kings will still be without Kevin Huerter (shoulder) and Malik Monk (knee). New Orleans has had leads of 15 points in all five games (15, 17, 23, 41 and 50) and the Kings led only one of the five matchups by more than nine points at any time.


AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA

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