ATLANTA – For at least one day, the Heat do not need any tiebreakers to determine they are in sixth place in the East.
Miami’s 115-86 pounding of the Hawks on Wednesday pushed the Heat (43-36) one-half game ahead of Washington (42-36) and Milwaukee (42-36). The Wizards and Buck could climb back into a three-way tie with both playing tonight. The Wizards, though, play at Cleveland, which is in a battle with Philadelphia for the third spot, and the Bucks host Brooklyn.
The most significant thing about Wednesday’s victory – which was accomplished with Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and James Johnson all sitting to nurse minor injuries – was the Heat have clinched all tiebreakers with Washington and Milwaukee.
Here is why:
* Miami swept the season series with the Bucks, winning all three games, giving them the edge over Milwaukee.
* Miami now has clinched the two-way tiebreaker with the Wizards by virtue of the better division record, which also gives the Heat the top seed among the three teams if they finish in a three-way tie. Because the Heat and Wizards split their four-game season series, the next tie-breaker is record within the Southeast Division. Miami now has 11 division wins and most Washington can get to is 10. Since the a division title tops all when it comes to a three-way tie, the Heat have the advantage in case it ties with Washington and Milwaukee because they would be the only one of the three to win their division.
Here are the remaining schedules for the three teams:
Miami: at New York, OKC, Toronto.
Washington: at Cleveland, Atlanta, Boston, at Orlando.
Milwaukee: Brooklyn, at New York, Orlando, at Philadelphia.
As for moving up to fifth, the Heat are not eliminated from that possibility just yet but everything would have to go right. The Pacers (46-32) are in that spot and the Heat would have to finish 3-0 and Indiana lose all four of its games for the Heat to tie the Pacers. Miami would then win the tie-breaker by virtue of conference record. The Pacers have home games against Golden State, Toronto and Charlotte along with playing at Charlotte remaining.
Just as interesting is what is happening at the top of the conference, which will determine the Heat’s playoff opponent.
Toronto’s victory over Boston on Wednesday virtually assures that the Raptors will finish with the best record in the East and the No. 1 seed. The Celtics then are assured of finishing second and learned today that Kyrie Irving will miss the rest of the season, including playoffs after having surgery on his knee.
But the third and fourth spots remain up for grabs. With Philadelphia defeating Detroit on Wednesday, the Sixers and Cavs both are 48-30 and Cleveland owns the tiebreaker. … for now.
The teams meet Friday in Philadelphia, with Cleveland playing the second night of a back-to-back after hosting Washington tonight.
The difference between playing Cleveland and Philadelphia is the difference between playing LeBron James and a team who has advanced to the NBA Finals the last three years or playing a young, untested 76ers team that could be without their best player, center Joel Embiid, who had surgery last week to repair a left eye orbital fracture.
Which means finished sixth (and facing the three seed) either could be a favorable spot or a very difficult draw.