MIAMI – For about three hours that long, hard climb to the playoffs was finally realized. …
Only to have it snatched away when the Clippers’ Blake Griffin missed a contested shot at the rim in the final seconds to preserve the Bucks’ the one-point victory in L.A.
The Miami Heat, after defeating New Orleans on Wednesday for their 22nd victory in their last 27 games, passed the Bucks and were tied with the Pistons for the seventh best record in the East at 33-35. But because the Pistons have the tiebreaker (they have won 2-of-3 against Miami this season with one game remaining March 28 in Detroit), once Milwaukee defeated the Clippers about three hours later to pull a half-game ahead of the two teams at 33-34, Miami technically fell to the ninth seed.
Still, after falling out of the top eight spots with its loss on Oct. 30 (the Heat were 1-2), Miami finally got back there 136 days later.
But the job is far from complete.
“That means a lot,” guard Goran Dragic said after leading Miami with 33 points in the win over the Pelicans.
“Especially three months back we were what, 14? But still, we need to come back tomorrow, do our job and try to get ready for the next game.”
The Heat play Minnesota at 8 p.m. Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“But we don’t need help, we just need to take care of business,” Dragic added.
Dragic was one month off. It was just two months ago the Heat were 11-30, 14th in the East and only ahead of 8-32 Brooklyn. But the Heat beat the Rockets on Jan. 17 to begin one of the more impressive turnarounds in league history.
“We’ve just got to keep moving in the right direction,” guard Dion Waiters said.
And the metrics are noticing.
The Heat’s odds of making the playoffs continue to climb with FiveThirtyEight.com giving Miami the best chance of playing after the final two weeks of April, a whopping 76 percent. The site predicts Miami will finish 41-41, which would mean going 30-11 in its final 41 games after posting an 11-30 record in its first 41.
More amazing: FiveThirtyEight gives Miami a 2 percent chance to with the title but only behind Boston, Cleveland and Washington and tied with Toronto in the East. Atlanta and Indiana, though, have better odds at making the playoffs.
ESPN has the Heat finishing at 40-42.
ESPN’s and PlayoffStatus’ odds are from before the Heat’s victory over New Orleans.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra typically dances around talk of winning streaks and playoffs but acknowledged Wednesday this climb is a credit to the “persistence” displayed by the players.
“But,” he added, “we have to keep pushing forward. … our guys are very focused on finishing the job.”
James Johnson said he does not look at the standings.
“We’re just not done fighting,” he said. “All I know is we love our position and we’re going to keep fighting, we’re not going to be satisfied.”
With its next four games at home and three against teams with losing records, the Heat could get some separation from Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago, which is a game behind Miami and awaiting an MRI on Dwyane Wade’s elbow. (Indiana is sixth, two games ahead of Miami).
The Bucks still have 10 of their remaining 15 games on the road. The Pistons next two games are at home against Toronto and Phoenix before they go on the road for four games. The Bulls face Washington, Toronto and Milwaukee on the road and have Utah, Detroit and Cleveland among their home games the rest of the month.
“Just keep winning. Keep winning, keep rebounding, keep blocking shots and keep playing Miami Heat basketball,” said Hassan Whiteside, who posted his 46th double-double of the season Wednesday with 20 points and 17 rebounds.
“We’re not getting complacent about anything. We’re not even getting comfortable, we’re just getting hungrier and then more hungry.”