MIAMI – The Miami Heat are not planning any grand celebration when they clinch a playoff spot – this isn’t baseball – but when it happens there no doubt will be a level of satisfaction.
That day could have come Thursday but while the Heat did their part by defeating the Chicago Bulls, 103-92, any chance to clinch that night disappeared when Detroit defeated Washington at home.
Miami’s magic number now is 1, which means a playoff spot can be secured Saturday either with a win over Brooklyn (the Heat host the Nets at 8 p.m.) or a Pistons loss at the Knicks.
Although NBA teams do not drape plastic throughout their locker rooms and spray expensive champagne to celebrate every stop along the playoff road as they do in baseball, coach Erik Spoelstra said Thursday it would be another “check mark” along way of what the Heat hope to accomplish this season.
“We want to take care of business and make sure that’s secure, first and foremost,” he said.
The Heat (41-35) are seventh in the East and hold a 5.5 game lead on the Pistons (35-40). With one more Heat win or Pistons loss the best Detroit can do is tie Miami.
The first tiebreaker is head-to-head and the teams split their four-game series. The next is conference record with a 28-19 record against East opponents Miami has clinched that tiebreaker. The most conference wins the Pistons can finish with is 26.
Heat players certainly were not disappointed Thursday. They have pretty much known for awhile it would take an epic collapse not to make the playoffs. Now, they are looking at playoff positioning.
Realistically, the best the Heat can hope for is a No. 6 seed. Entering Friday, Miami is 3.5 games behind Philadelphia and Indiana, who are in a virtual tie for the fourth and fifth seeds.
Miami, though, remains in a tight race for the 6-8 spots. The Heat are a half-game behind No. 6 Washington (41-34) and a half-game ahead of No. 8 Milwaukee (40-35). The Bucks, who play at the Lakers on Friday, kept pace late Thursday with a victory over the injury-riddled Warriors in Oakland.
The Heat own the tiebreaker over Milwaukee after sweeping the three-game series and over both teams in case of a three-way tie. Because the Heat and Wizards split their season series their two-way tiebreaker could come down to division record. Miami is 9-5 with two games remaining against Atlanta. Washington is 7-6 with games remaining against Charlotte, Atlanta and Orlando.
As for the first round of the playoffs: The No. 8 seed likely will face Toronto, the No. 7 seed likely will face Boston and the No. 6 seed could face Cleveland, Philadelphia or Indiana. The Cavaliers are third a half-game ahead of the Sixers and Pacers entering Friday’s games. Philadelphia has the easiest schedule of the three but will be without Joel Embiid the rest of the regular season. He is set to have surgery to repair an orbital fracture.
“We’re trying to win every game, that’s what this organization is about,” Justise Winslow said. “We’re not too focused on who our opponent is going to be but we we’re trying to win every game almost like college try to get hot at the right time and go from there.”