So, here we are.
With two games and three days left in the regular season, Miami is still fighting to make the playoffs. The Heat can still finish anywhere from ninth place and out of the playoffs to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference — the No. 8, No. 7 and No. 6 playoff seeds are still up for grabs (COMPLETE STANDINGS).
Here’s everything you need to know about the Heat and their playoff dreams at the start of this critical three-day stretch …
– The Heat are tied with the Bulls for the Eastern Conference’s eighth-best record at 39-41. But Chicago is in the eighth and final playoff spot because it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over No. 9 Miami after winning the season series 2-1.
– Both No. 9 Miami and No. 8 Chicago are one game behind No. 7 Indiana (40-40). But if the Heat end up in a two-team tie with the Pacers in the standings, Miami would be considered ahead because it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indiana.
– No. 9 Miami is two games behind No. 6 Milwaukee (41-39). But if the Bucks lose both of their remaining games and the Heat win both of their remaining games to create a two-team tie, Miami would be ahead because it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker after winning the season series 3-1.
– Here are the different ways Miami can make the playoffs:
1. Two Heat wins and two Bucks losses
2. Two Heat wins and one Pacers loss
3. Two Heat wins and one Bulls loss
4. One Heat win and two Pacers losses
5. One Heat win and two Bulls losses
Takeaway: There are plenty of paths the Heat can take to the playoffs. But the easiest path would include Miami winning both of its remaining games. Winning just one of two would put the Heat in a tough spot, as they would need either the Pacers or Bulls to lose both of their games. Win two, and the Heat are much more likely to find themselves in the playoffs later this week.
THREE-WAY (AND FOUR-WAY) TIEBREAKER INFO
– If Miami ends up in a three-way tie with Chicago and Indiana for the final two playoff spots, the Bulls would get the seventh seed because of their 4-3 combined record against the Heat and Pacers. Miami would end up as the eighth seed with its 3-3 record, and Indiana would be left out of the playoffs with their 3-4 record.
– If Miami ends up in a three-way tie with Milwaukee and Chicago for two playoff spots, the Heat would end up as the first team in because of their 4-3 combined record against the Bucks and Bulls. The Bucks would be the second team in this scenario with a 4-4 record and the Bulls would be third with a 3-4 record.
– In a three-way tie between Miami, Milwaukee and Indiana, the Heat would be the first team in because of their 5-2 combined record against the Bucks and Pacers. The Bucks would be the second team in with a 4-4 record and the Pacers would be third with a 2-5 record.
– In a four-way tie between Miami, Milwaukee, Indiana and Chicago, the Heat would be the first team in with a combined .600 win percentage against the Bucks, Pacers and Bulls. The Bucks would be second, the Bulls would be third and the Pacers would be the team left out of the playoffs.
Takeaway: The Heat are in good position when it comes to three-way and four-way ties. Miami would not be the team left out of the playoffs in any of these scenarios. In fact, if Miami ends up tied with the Bucks and the Bulls or tied with the Bucks and the Pacers, the Heat would be awarded the highest seed of the three teams in both scenarios. And the Heat would also win the four-way tie that’s outlined above. This is all good news for Miami.
WHAT’S LEFT ON THE SCHEDULE
Miami Heat: Monday vs. Cavaliers; Wednesday vs. Wizards.
Indiana Pacers: Monday at 76ers; Wednesday vs. Hawks.
Chicago Bulls: Monday vs. Magic; Wednesday vs. Nets.
Milwaukee Bucks: Monday vs. Hornets; Wednesday at Celtics.
Takeaway: On paper, the Heat have the toughest remaining schedule of the four teams. But will the Cavaliers and Wizards play their stars against Miami? Cleveland is still battling with the Celtics for the conference’s top seed, but the Cavaliers are also coming off a brutal overtime loss to the Hawks in Atlanta on Sunday. Cleveland gave up a 26-point lead in the fourth quarter and LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love each played over 40 minutes in the loss. Meanwhile, Wednesday’s game against the Wizards could be against Washington’s backups. The Wizards are already locked into the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference. So don’t expect John Wall or Bradley Beal to play in Miami. Miami may have the toughest remaining schedule on paper, but is it in reality the most challenging if those players are held out?
WHAT’S ON THE LINE
– The Heat are looking to become just the fourth team in NBA history (since the eight-team playoff format began in 1983-84) to make the postseason after being at least 19 games under .500 at any point that season. The other teams to do it are the 1987-88 Spurs, 1985-86 Bulls and 1984-85 Cavaliers.
– Miami is working to become the first-ever team to make the playoffs after finding itself 19 games under .500 (11-30) at the midway point of that same season.
– The last two games of the Heat’s regular season could also determine whether coach Erik Spoelstra wins the NBA’s Coach of the Year award or not. Miami needs to win its final two games to finish the regular season with a .500 record at 41-41. Only three coaches in NBA history have been named the Coach of the Year with a record that was .500 or below. Doc Rivers was the last one to do it when he earned the honor after leading the Magic to a 41-41 record and finishing one game short of the playoffs in 2000.
Takeaway: As you can see, the Heat will make history if they are able to find a way to earn a trip to the playoffs over the next few days. It’s already been an incredible season for Miami, as it’s found a way to keep the season interesting after starting with an 11-30 record. But completing the turnaround to earn a playoff berth would make it even more special.