No sooner had his team completed its second-round series Thursday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, then Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra effectively banned his team from court time, declaring the next two days off.

When he spoke, it still was uncertain whether Spoelstra could be true to his word, with the possibility, at the time, of a Sunday afternoon start to the Eastern Conference finals still in play.

With that possibility removed from the equation hours later, there now will be ample time to ramp up to the penultimate round of the playoffs, with the East finals to open Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. at FTX Arena.

Spoelstra said he felt it was important for his team to savor the moment, even as more significant steps await.

“You do want to acknowledge the steps along the way,” he said. “This is not easy. We’ve been doing this now for 27 years, since Pat [Riley] came down to South Florida, nine conference finals. But every single year we’ve had that goal, to get to the [NBA] Finals and compete for a title.

“It’s not easy in this league. And I wanted everybody in the locker room just to acknowledge that. It’s not everything, but it is something. It’s a long journey. It’s a tough journey. You have to commit to something that’s bigger than yourself.”

Spoelstra then paused to note how reaching such a level is particularly meaningful to those yet to reach such playoff heights, noting Victor Oladipo in particular having never previously made it out of the first round.

“Take a couple of days off,” Spoelstra said, “and then we’ll see.”

Forward P.J. Tucker noted how in late December and early January the Heat were going with loaner players from the G League amid a team COVID outbreak and how so many had to step up amid injuries and absences throughout the season.

“It’s been crazy, this whole crazy year,” he said. “But it’s been a fun year, just because we have had so much adversity all year – missing guys a number of games, playing with G League players coming up – like we had so many lineups and so many things.

“And to be a top team in the East all year to now get to this point . . . being in the conference finals is crazy.”

While the Heat took care of the 76ers in six games, it still had the feel of a grueling series, with point guard Kyle Lowry sidelined from the final two games with a recurrence of his hamstring strain and seven other Heat players at one point or another over the 11 days listed on the NBA injury report. All but Lowry were available for Thursday night’s series-clinching victory at Wells Fargo Center.

As the East’s No. 1 seed, the Heat will host Game 1 on Tuesday night and Game 2 on Thursday. If necessary, the Heat would also host Games 5 and 7. All games in the East finals are 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

Tickets for the Heat home games in the series went on sale Friday, with a four-ticket limit per household, per game.

The Heat will face the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Boston Celtics series.

Guard Max Strus through it all, the team’s bond has grown stronger.

“We believe in each other,” he said. “A lot of people say that, but our connection and trust in each other is there, it’s special. You can tell.

“And it’s not just on the court, it’s off. We all really like each other and enjoy each other and love being around each other and want to play hard for each other.”

Eastern Conference finals

Game 1: Tuesday, FTX Arena, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 2: May 19, FTX Arena, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 3: May 21, at Boston or Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 4: May 23, at Boston or Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 5*: May 25: FTX Arena, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 6*: May 27, at Boston or Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 7*: May 29: FTX Arena, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

* – If necessary.

(No local television in conference finals.)


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