Where will the Heat finish in the Eastern Conference playoff race? A look at where they stand

Goran Dragic #7 and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat react to a call against the Washington Wizards during the second half at Capital One Arena on March 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — How do you know the Eastern Conference playoff race is tight? Look at the standings or just watch two teams battling for playoff positioning face off.

Just four games separate the No. 3 Cleveland Cavaliers and the No. 8 Miami Heat. And only four points separated the eighth-place Heat and fifth-place Wizards on Tuesday in Miami’s 117-113 overtime loss in Washington.

“This is the way it’s going to be for the next five weeks,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after Tuesday’s defeat. “And it’s not exclusive to the Miami Heat. Everybody’s going to be feeling these emotions, either this way or what Washington’s feeling right now. So many of these games are playoff-type games and that’s the way it should be. That’s what the league wants, that’s what the players want.”

Next up for the Heat are two “playoff-type games” in Miami. The Heat will host the sixth-place 76ers on Thursday before facing the Wizards again on Saturday — two games that will surely help shape the final Eastern Conference standings.

“Very competitive, no doubt,” Spoelstra said of the jumbled East playoff picture. “So we’ll have another opportunity with these guys [Wizards] back in Miami in a few days, but we have another big one [against the 76ers] before that. So we can’t even think about that. But there’s so many evenly matched teams and that’s why some of these, a lot of these games are going down to the end.”

The playoff race could come down to the end, too. With 17 games remaining on Miami’s regular-season schedule, the No. 8 Heat enter Wednesday one-half game behind the No. 7 Bucks, two games behind the No. 6 76ers, three games behind the No. 5 Wizards, 3.5 games behind the No. 4 Pacers and four games behind the No. 3 Cavaliers.

Miami currently holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, which is the first playoff tiebreaker, with Milwaukee and Indiana. But the 76ers and Wizards could clinch the head-to-head edge over the Heat with wins over Miami this week, with both teams leading their season series over the Heat 2-1.

“Us, Philly, Milwaukee, everyone that is in this little pack right here. This is the kind of game this is going to be,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said after Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Wizards. “Obviously, the next one against Philly is going to be like this and then the next one against Washington. This is the time where you’re playing for something. You’re not coming to the second half of the season and you’re not playing for anything.”

The good news for the Heat is they should make the playoffs, barring a collapse. With the top eight teams in each conference advancing to the postseason, No. 9 Detroit is 4.5 games behind No. 8 Miami for the final playoff spot.

The Heat also have 10 homes games remaining on their schedule, which is more than every other team ranked ahead of them in the East except the 76ers entering Wednesday. Philadelphia has 11 home games left to play.

Even after Tuesday’s overtime loss, Wade left the arena encouraged with two big games with playoff implications looming this week.

“I liked the way we played tonight,” he said. “It’s a few things that we can change, obviously our start. But then in the third quarter, our starters came out and played with unbelievable effort and energy. I told the guys after the game, ‘If we play like this for the majority of these games going down the stretch, we’ll be in good position.’”

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