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Heat Enter Final Homestand On Outside Of Playoff Picture

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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The Miami Heat's season has entered crunch time, with a playoff spot now on the horizon instead of within their grasp.

Following the Heat's fourth straight loss, Erik Spoelstra didn't try to hide the importance of Tuesday night's matchup with the Charlotte Hornets.

In a matchup of teams sitting outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the banged-up Heat open a crucial four-game homestand in what Spoelstra called his team's biggest game of the year.

Miami (34-43) was in seventh place on March 29, but has since dropped to 10th, one game out of a postseason spot.

"That's how quickly it can change," Spoelstra said after Sunday's 112-89 loss at Indiana. "One week ago, these teams were where we are right now and vice versa so we have to put together some wins. We put together a string, it can turn right back in our favor. But we have to put together good basketball though."

The Hornets (33-43) are one-half game back of the Heat, who are averaging 89.0 points on 25.0 percent shooting from 3-point range during their skid, and will overtake Miami with a win.

"We can't stress out about the other teams, at some point we got to take care of our own business," Spoelstra said. " ... We have to focus on Tuesday, get healthy, get right and realize we're still fighting and kicking and we have an opportunity. We'll use the next 48 hours to get to that mind-set to get ready to really compete on our home court for the biggest game of the year."

The Heat have dropped two of three to the Hornets, falling 78-76 in Charlotte on Jan. 21 in the last meeting. They've won the last 10 meetings in Miami, however, but extending that run could be difficult since the Heat are short-handed.

Luol Deng (thigh) and Michael Beasley (knee) were injured Sunday and both are considered questionable. Miami already had a depleted lineup with centers Chris Andersen (bruised left foot) and Hassan Whiteside (cut right hand) sitting out.

Going with a small lineup, the Heat were outrebounded 55-37 Sunday. Andersen and Whiteside are listed as questionable, which means the 6-foot-8 Udonis Haslem could get another start at center against a Charlotte team that is eighth in rebounding at 44.4 per game. The Hornets have outrebounded the Heat by an average of 8.3 in the season series.

Charlotte can relate to Miami's injury woes with center Al Jefferson possibly out for the rest of the season with right knee inflammation. He joins starting forwards Cody Zeller (sore right shoulder) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (sprained left ankle) on the Hornets' injured list.

Despite being without its starting frontcourt, Charlotte defeated Philadelphia 92-91 on Saturday for its third win in five games. The Hornets overcame a 1-for-13 shooting performance from 3-point range to win on Gerald Henderson's driving layup with 6 seconds left.

"It was ugly but we don't care," said Henderson, who finished with seven points on 3-of-12 shooting. "It was a win."

Kemba Walker bounced back with 24 points and made 11 of 21 shots after scoring six on 1-of-9 shooting to go with four turnovers in Friday's 93-74 loss to Indiana.

Not only do the Hornets have to pass three teams to make their playoffs, their schedule isn't particularly forgiving. Losers of six of seven away from Charlotte, the Hornets finish with four of six on the road. They have two games remaining against Atlantic Division-winning Toronto, plus dates with Eastern Conference regular-season champion Atlanta and Southwest Division-leading Houston.

The Heat continue their homestand with the Raptors, Chicago and Orlando before concluding the season at Philadelphia.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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