MIAMI – Get used to it. Nothing will be easy the final 11 days of the season.
The Heat dropping a game to the lowly, undermanned Knicks on Friday should not be shocking. Just as Chicago recently falling to Philadelphia shouldn’t be. Or Indiana losing 5 of 6. Or Detroit having a tough time beating. … anybody.
But look at the standings, every one of those teams – Miami, Indiana, Chicago and even Detroit and Charlotte – remain alive for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs for one reason. …
None of them are good enough to separate.
Welcome to the battle at the bottom of the brackets, where sometimes the best way to gain ground is to be off. (See: Chicago Friday night).
The Heat (37-39) squandered a chance to open up some breathing room Friday, but this blow delivered by the 18-game-under-.500 Knicks was far from a knockout punch. Which is why trying to figure out who is going to grab those final spots by counting the wins and losses remaining on the schedule is risky business.
Every team in this scrum is capable to losing to anybody. And every team is capable of beating anybody.
Nobody has proven that more than the Heat, who are 2-0 against the Rockets and 2-1 against the Cavaliers but 1—3 against Magic and 1-2 against the Knicks.
“Those are the most dangerous teams because they have nothing to lose,” Goran Dragic said about the games against the bottom dwellers that many see as automatic Ws.
“They already have plans where they’re going to go after the season. They play freely with no pressure. Even if they miss a shot, they don’t care. It’s a dangerous game.”
The Heat have six games remaining, split between home and the road, starting at 6 o’clock tonight when they host Denver. The anxiety level was amped after losing to New York because of that schedule. After facing the Nuggets at home and Charlotte on the road on Wednesday, Miami finishes with four games (at Toronto and Washington, home against Cleveland and Washington) against teams with a combined winning percentage of .611.
“We knew for the last month this would be one of the most difficult things we would have to do,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And this is a great opportunity still.
“(But) when you have expectations a game is supposed to go the way you want it to, that gets you in the wrong mind frame.”
For the Heat, the only way to approach this final week and a half is as if that other uniform is blank across the chest. After all, this is a team that has proven it can just as easily beat Cleveland on the road as it can lose to Orlando at home. … twice.
“I think we want it so bad that sometimes we try to self-will,” James Johnson said.
“We can’t do that. We got here as a team. We’ve got to keep going as a team.”
The Bulls victory over Atlanta on Saturday created a three-way tie with Miami and Indiana for the seventh and eighth seeds. Chicago takes over the No. 7 seed by virtue of the three-way tiebreaker. The Heat, though, would hold onto a playoff spot as the eighth seed because is owns the tie-breaker over Indiana.
To extend its season, Miami has to finish ahead of just one of those teams. Figuring Detroit and Charlotte have too steep a hill to climb and Atlanta and Milwaukee are secure in the fifth and sixth spots, Miami, Indiana and Chicago are battling for Nos. 7 and 8.
The doomsdayers cannot help but look ahead and will say the Bulls, with all six remaining games against teams with losing records, has the advantage, Dwyane Wade or no Dwyane Wade.
So that narrows it down to Miami and Indiana, which have similar schedules (three home games, three road games, four games against playoff bound teams). Miami, though, has the advantage having won the season series, 2-1.
“It feels like you are alive. It’s great, I mean great,” Dragic said about this playoff push even after a deflating loss against the Knicks.
“Everybody wants to be in this position. I don’t want to (go home) April 12. I want to be in the playoffs. It’s an unbelievable experience. We feel like every time we were in a bad situation, we always find a way to bounce back and to play well.”