MIAMI – For the second game in a row the Miami Heat have their playoff future in their own hands.
The Heat squandered the chance to secure a spot in the postseason on Saturday, losing in overtime to the Nets. With the Pistons suddenly hitting a hot streak, it is now up the Heat to earn their way in, which they can with a victory over the dreadful Hawks tonight (7:30 p.m.)
Although, if you talk to them, their minds already are on the postseason.
“We’ve been in that mode,” Tyler Johnson said. “Obviously, you don’t know until you know especially after what we experienced last year. We’ve been treating it as if we’ve been in for a long time now. I don’t think anything is really going to change except when you look at it’ll have a little ‘x’ next to it.”
The Heat will have no excuses if they cannot seal the deal tonight. Miami (41-36) faces the worst team in the East. The Hawks (22-55) have lost 11-of-13. A victory also would assure Erik Spoelstra’s team of a winning record after finishing 41-41 last season.
Meanwhile, the Heat have started looking ahead and could make up some ground on the two teams they are bunched up with at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Miami and Milwaukee are tied but the Heat hold the seventh spot by virtue of winning the season series over the Bucks, 3-0. The Heat are just a game behind No. 6 Washington.
Tonight, the Wizards are at the Rockets, who have the best record in the NBA; and the Bucks host the Celtics, who have won six straight and are just two games behind Toronto for the best record in the East.
Miami is four games ahead of No. 9 Detroit with five to play. And Miami holds the tiebreaker over the Pistons by virtue of conference record.
“Our team is already in that vibe and in that mode that each game matters coming down the stretch,” Dwyane Wade said.
As for climbing any higher than the sixth seed, that door has just about closed. Miami cannot catch No. 3 Cleveland and No. 4 Philadelphia and No. 5 Indiana each need just one more win to shut out Miami of any spot higher than No. 6.
As for tiebreakers with Milwaukee and Washington: The Heat hold the tiebreaker over the Bucks 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 in the division with two games remaining against Atlanta. Washington is 8-6 with games remaining against Atlanta and Orlando.
Still, after finishing 41-41 last season and being eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the regular season because of a tiebreaker, the Heat know this first step is important.
“It’s an accomplishment and a testament to the work we’ve put in,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”