Mailbag: Pat Riley’s influence on Erik Spoelstra; Miami Heat’s path to playoffs

Erik Spoelstra, Pat Riley. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

CHARLOTTE – The season is winding down and the Miami Heat are playing meaningful games, which appeared highly unlikely two months ago.

We’ve received questions about playoff and beyond (draft and free agency) in the past weeks. Today we answer one about Erik Spoelstra’s relationship with Pat Riley along with a question about the Heat’s playoff chances.

If you weren’t able to submit a question this week, send them in for future mailbags via Twitter to @Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44.

From @MikeTrimWPTV: How hands-on is Pat Riley w/Spoelstra? Seeing Spo’s success it makes me wonder how he learned from a legend

Almost every day, as the Heat are winding down practice and we arrive, Spoelstra is talking with Riley, who watches from a table set up in the Heat’s practice court. Spoelstra and Riley are inextricably linked, with the two arriving months apart in 1995 and being together ever since with Riley holding the titles of coach and president and Spoelstra starting in the video room and working his way up to assistant coach and then head coach.

Just about everything Spoelstra learned about being a head coach has come from Riley (he also credits people like Ron Rothstein and Stan Van Gundy for his development). And now, Riley remains at arm’s length with his door always open to Spoelstra.

Just because they talk and just because Spoelstra has always had Riley around for advice, this team – and all of those that have come before it since Spoelstra took over in 2008 – is Spoelstra’s. Riley has allowed Spoelstra to grow on his own through the many ups and few downs, allowed him to make his mistakes and learn from them while keeping a safe distance when it comes to Spoelstra’s coaching style.

From @ChrisHypeTrain: what has to happen for the Heat to make the playoffs?

Okay, where to start. First, the Heat must win, starting tonight in Charlotte. How many wins in their final five games depends on what the others at the bottom of the East bracket do. Basically, look at four teams – Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Atlanta – fighting for the final two spots.

The Heat are a half game behind the Pacers entering tonight but own the tie-breaker. Indiana beating Toronto Tuesday night hurt Miami but the Pacers still must play Milwaukee and Atlanta and two road games, albeit against Orlando and Brooklyn. So, if Miami wins tonight (which should take care of Charlotte) all it has to do is match however many games Indiana wins the rest of the way and they are in.

Miami is in the same spot with Chicago, the difference being the Bulls have the tie-breaker on the Heat. So the Heat must then gain a game on Chicago to pass the Bulls, which will be tough considering the Bulls’ schedule is much more forgiving. But as we have seen in the last week, no game is a given. Look at Miami and Chicago losing to the Knicks.

The Hawks are fading fast. They have lost 9-of-11 and are sixth, and just two games up on Miami. Atlanta still must play Cleveland twice, Boston, Charlotte and Indiana.

Miami has to beat out one of these team to make it. Can they do it? We will see.

[Playoff update: Heat fall out of playoffs after Pacers win; can regain eighth spot with win tonight]

[Dion Waiters will not play Wednesday vs. Hornets, but could join team on three-game trip]

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