MIAMI – The season ends in a little more than a week and, as coach Erik Spoelstra has said for about the last week, every game is a playoff game for the Miami Heat.
The Heat have a difficult week with road games at Charlotte and then face the third and second best teams in the East, Toronto and Washington, before finishing the season with two home game.
Here are three things to watch as the Heat start the week clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Down the stretch they come: The Heat are staggering after losing their last two games at home but they remain eighth, although their position is very precarious. Miami is tied with the Pacers but hold onto the No. 8 seed by virtue of the tie-breaker. The problem is a difficult season ending schedule for the Heat. Miami could make it by winning two of its last five games (Indiana would then have to win 3 of 5) but one of those has to be Wednesday in Charlotte. The Hornets are 10th, just one game behind the Heat and Pacers, and would hold the tie-breaker on Miami with a win on Wednesday. Beating the Hornets and winning two of their final four games should put Miami in the postseason but that may be a very difficult chore.
Waiting for Waiters: Although the news is trickling in on Dion Waiters, it at least has been encouraging. The Heat guard has missed eight games in which Miami is 3-5 after severely spraining his left ankle on March 17. Last week Spoelstra talked about the swelling going down. On Sunday he said Waiters was out of his walking boot and doing more conditioning. That night he was seen walking through the locker room with no limp. The next step is for Waiters to get on the court in practice, which appears as if that will happen soon, and then return to the lineup. If the Heat make the playoffs, ideally Waiters will get some game action in before the end of the regular season, possibly in the final two home games next week.
End of the road: The Heat will head out on the road for the final time this season for a three game trip starting Wednesday in Charlotte. Miami has won two straight away from AmericanAirlines Arena and are 9-6 on the road since turning around the season in mid-January. Miami, though, heads to three cities – Charlotte, Toronto and Washington – in which they are 0-3 this season and all three teams have something to play for.