The Heat have been here before, clock ticking, playoff fate in the balance, all eyes on the training room.

This time it is Kyle Lowry and the hamstring strain that remains an issue 2 1/2 weeks after the fact, amid an Eastern Conference semifinal best-of-seven playoff series that is tied 2-2 heading into Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. Game 5 at FTX Arena.

Previously it had been a knee for Tim Hardaway in 1999, a rib for Dwyane Wade in 2005, a knee for Hassan Whiteside in 2016.

Each time, there was no recovering.

Now a misstep by Lowry in an April 22 loss in Game 3 of the first round against the Atlanta Hawks has the Heat wobbled, coming off consecutive losses in Philadelphia, considerable doubt about whether footing can be regained.

“I’ll put it this way,” Lowry said of his injury as Sunday turned to Monday, “you don’t want to play with it.”

But he did these past two games, or at least tried, shooting a combined 3 of 14 in the losses.

“I want to be out there,” he said of Game 5. “We’ll see what happens and how I respond to treatment. The goal is always be out there and play with my teammates.

“This is tough timing for a hamstring. I’ve never had any soft-tissue [injury]. But the goal is to be out there. So, like I said, I’m going to try to play, definitely try to play.”

With victories in Lowry’s absence in the series’ first two games, the question becomes whether limited Lowry is better than the alternatives.

It is a conundrum for more than the 36-year-old former All-Star.

“I appreciate him,” forward Jimmy Butler said in the wake of his 40-point performance in Game 4 at Wells Fargo Center. “We all do, and the fact that he wants to play, he wants to compete. And he knows our best chance of winning is with him on the floor. We understand that.

“We also want our guys to be safe. We always have more than enough to win. We always say that. We do believe that. Don’t get me wrong, he definitely helps us.”

So when asked if he was concerned, Butler said, “Not very, and very at the same time.”

He continued, “Just because that’s my guy, that’s my point guard. And I don’t want anyone in this league to ever be injured. But that’s still not going to give us an excuse to not win these games. Like I said, I want Kyle Lowry on the floor. I want our starting PG. But if he can’t go, it’s big shoes to fill, but somebody’s got to do it.”

Third-year Gabe Vincent did just that in helping the Heat win the final two games of the Hawks series and then the first two of this matchup. But with each game, the stakes rise, the 76ers now getting some of the best of James Harden, while the Heat could be left turning back to a point guard who a year ago was on a two-way contract.

Even at half speed, which was the case for the 30:16 that Lowry played in Game 4, there still was a contribution Sunday, with seven assists.

“He’s such a warrior, that we’ll just have to see,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Lowry.

Still, with the game in the balance, when Lowry-level defense was needed against Harden, when just one or two more shots could have shifted momentum, Lowry sat the final 10:18 Sunday. That, alone, spoke volumes of what Spoelstra was seeing.

“It was just part of the game,” Lowry said. “That group had it going at the end. That group fought and was fighting to get back.”

At this point, Lowry said it is beyond another MRI or anything other than treatment in the moment.

“I think we know what it is,” he said. “I think we can figure it out. My team doctors and our training staff, we’ll all communicate and continue to be on the same page and go forward from there.”


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