Playoff update: Miami Heat’s hopes stay alive, but they still need help

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talks with assistant coach Juwan Howard during Miami’s big win in Washington on Saturday, (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Miami Heat will not go away.

Appearing on the brink after losing in Toronto on Friday, Miami recovered with an inspired effort on Saturday to defeat the Washington Wizards, 106-103, on the road and keep alive their playoff hopes.

All of it means Miami will head into the final week of the season with meaningful home games against Cleveland and probably Washington, an improbable scenario when this team was 11-30.

“We’re stubborn,” forward James Johnson said. “(We) just play hard and we’re never going to lay down, we’re never going to quit and you’re going to have to keep playing us until the clock says zero.”

Miami’s victory coupled with the Bulls’ loss at Brooklyn puts both teams at 39-41 and tied for the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference (COMPLETE STANDINGS). The Bulls, though, own the eighth – and final – playoff spot by virtue of winning 2-of-3 against Miami in the season series. Indiana, which won at Orlando Saturday, is one game ahead of both teams and in the seventh spot.

But because the Heat own the tie-breaker against the Pacers (Miami won 2-of-3) it means they are in essence one game behind both the Bulls and Pacers and can catch either of those teams and qualify for the playoff by winning both of its remaining games and either Chicago or Indiana losing one (or if Miami splits its final two and Indiana or Chicago lose both).

But here is why the Heat remain the longest shot to get into the postseason (just a 30 percent to make it, according to FiveThirtyEight.com:

Miami’s final two games are against two of the top four teams in the East: No. 1 Cleveland and No. 4 Washington.

And, yes, the Heat are 5-1 against those two teams (3-0 vs. Washington, 2-1 vs. Cleveland), but to win three in a row against them to end the season is daunting.

Chicago has home games left against two of the three worst teams in the conference, Orlando on Monday and Brooklyn on Wednesday.

Indiana plays at Philadelphia on Monday and ends its regular season at home against Atlanta, which has been hot as of late and regained its hold on the fifth-seed in the East.

One other remote chance for Miami to sneak in: Win its final two games and have Milwaukee lose its last two. The Bucks play Charlotte at home and end the season at Boston, the No. 2 team in the East.

Miami went 3-1 against the Bucks this year, giving the Heat the tie-breaker.

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