What had stood as a complex equation for the Miami Heat at the NBA All-Star break has turned into basic math for the final month of the season.

Within reach of possibly moving as high as No. 4 in mid-February, Erik Spoelstra’s team effectively stands in a now-or-never spot when it comes to the Nos. 5-6 playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference, the final postseason berths that do not require participating in the harrowing play-in round.

Entering Wednesday, the Heat stood 2 1/2 games behind the 37-28 No. 6 Brooklyn Nets.

Because Brooklyn already has won the first two games of the three-game season series against the Heat, that head-to-head tiebreaker already has been secured by the Nets, regardless of the outcome of the Heat’s March 25 home game against Brooklyn.

In essence, it means if the Nets go 9-8 the rest of the way, then to pass Brooklyn and secure No. 6 over Brooklyn, it would require a 12-4 finish for the Heat starting with Wednesday’s game against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers.

Having regained their footing with a three-game winning streak, including Tuesday night’s 118-96 road victory over the Houston Rockets, the Nets still have several soft spots on their schedule, including home games against the Rockets, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as road games against the Magic and Detroit Pistons.

Take care of business in those six and the task of avoiding the play-in becomes far simpler for Brooklyn.

The Heat, by contrast, have ample challenges ahead even beyond the two-game home set against the Cavaliers that concludes Friday night at Miami-Dade Arena, also with road games against the Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, as well as home games against the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Knicks.

Fail to come up with wins in several of those, and it could make the remainder of the schedule moot regarding a direct ticket to the playoffs.

In addition, the Heat also have four back-to-back sets remaining, all involving road games, not necessarily the preferred path for a team reliant on 30-somethings such as Jimmy Butler, Victor Oladipo, Kyle Lowry, Kevin Love and Cody Zeller.

The first back-to-back set is Friday’s conclusion of this two-game set against the Cavaliers followed by a Saturday game in Orlando. The remaining three back-to-backs are all on the road, at Chicago-Detroit, Toronto-New York and then Philadelphia-Washington the final week of the season.

The Heat this season are 4-6 on …read more

Source:: The Mercury News


All Heat have to do to avoid play-in is get best sustained play of season (and hope Nets or Knicks stumble)

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