What does LeBron James joining the Lakers mean for the Miami Heat and rest of the Eastern Conference?

The Los Angeles Lakers will welcome LeBron James to their team and the Western Conference. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO – The Miami Heat are getting better by standing pat.

OK, that’s not what Heat followers, clamoring for Pat Riley to do something, do anything, just for the sake of making a change, want to hear. But the Eastern Conference, already considered the undercard to the heavy weight fight that is the Western Conference, just watched the Cleveland Cavaliers go from a team that has gone to four consecutive Finals to one that is headed for the lottery.

And everybody else will benefit.

LeBron James’ decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers will send the Cavs into another tailspin. The last time he left, Cleveland went from a team that won 127 games in the two previous seasons to 97 in the next four. And that means a bump for every team in the East, including the Heat.

Miami is, for the most part, free agency bystanders this summer with a roster that is about $18 million over the cap. The Heat won 44 games last season and finished sixth in a race in which the final three teams were separated by one game. Riley already has floated the idea that the Heat may have to suck it up for another offseason, bring back the same old gang and try to improve from within, which can happen with Dion Waiters expected to be healthy for a full season and young players like Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo trending in a position direction.

And with Cleveland falling back and none of the seven lottery teams in the East making any significant additions, the Heat not only clearly are one of the East’s top eight teams, their ceiling just got a bit higher and Miami will go into this season believing they are one of the top 4 teams in the East.

LeBron’s decision must have been met by some clinking of the glasses not only in Miami but in Boston (now clearly the Conference favorite), Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Toronto … especially in Toronto, which has been eliminated from the playoffs by the Cavaliers the last three seasons, the last two in sweeps.

But it could even mean more to the Heat. The Lakers are trying to swing a trade with San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard which would mean Philadelphia would not. The Sixers already have lost two key members of their rotation in free agency – Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilysova – and have struck out on LeBron. If Philly whiffs on Leonard (and somehow also loses free agent JJ Redick), then the Sixers will be holding a big bag of cash they will be desperate to spend, a scenario that could further weaken the conference and create even more distance between Boston and everyone else.

But LeBron’s decision may go even deeper. As July approached, several Eastern Conference teams were looking to make changes, tired of the same old stale results. Chief among them, Toronto and Washington. Now, what if each of these franchises feel as though they were given new life and decide a drastic move isn’t necessary?

The Raptors might just decide to stick with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and look at their 59-win season in a whole different light considering their kryptonite is out of the East.

And the Wizards might believe once again their nucleus of John Wall and Bradley Beal and Otto Porter (Washington already shipped center Marcin Gortat to the Clippers) is good enough to make a run.

As for the Heat, LeBron’s departure will not mean Riley is ready to close up shop and call it a summer. Riley knows he’s in salary cap hell and the only way to improve this roster is through a trade or two. If Riley can find a way to do that, whether that means moving a bad contract or even trading one of the Heat’s young assets, he will pull the trigger on any deal.

Just because Cleveland’s loss is the Heat’s gain does not mean the work is done.

Stars migrating from East to West is not new. Just a year ago, two of the East’s best players made the same journey, Paul George and Jimmy Butler.

Now, the West has all five players from the All-NBA first team, the top five scorers and seven of the top eight rebounders.

While the West has LeBron and Kevin Durant and Steph Curry and James Harden and Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis and we can go on and on and on, the East has. … Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and some nice young rising players who could one day get to that stage.

So, take a moment to celebrate Eastern Conference. LeBron is gone.

[Heat summer League preview: Expect to see plenty of Bam Adebayo]

[Heat sign Derrick Jones Jr. to standard contract, pushing roster to 11 players]

[Miami Heat swingman Rodney McGruder’s contract guaranteed for 2018-19]

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Miami Heat must finish vs. 76ers, or season will be finished

Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat attempts to drive to the basket as he is surrounded by Dario Saric and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth quarter during Game 4 of the opening round of the playoffs at American Airlines Arena on Saturday in Miami. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

MIAMI — Dwyane Wade’s confidence in himself to rally his team, whether it be in a game or a playoff series, will always be absolute.

*D’Angelo: The Process will win series

But after the Heat’s frustrating 106-102 loss to the 76ers on Saturday — their second straight at home — dropped them into a 3-1 series hole, Wade didn’t mince words when asked if his veteran guile still gives the Heat an advantage over the upstart squad from Philadelphia.

“I’d rather be in their position, I’ll tell you that, figuring out how to close out 3-1,” Wade said after his 25-point performance nearly lifted the Heat back to victory after they let a double-digit, late-third-quarter lead slip away. “From our standpoint it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be one of the hardest things we’ve tried to accomplish as a team to try to bring it back here to Miami, and we gotta understand that.

“We gotta go in and put our hard hats on and go after it. We can’t worry about them. They’re in a good position. We’re the ones trying to come from behind. So we’ll see what happens Tuesday.”

The Heat, despite coming from 3-1 down to win a playoff series only once in franchise history, are not finished in this first-round, Eastern Conference series. Simple math proves that.

But they will be finished after Tuesday night’s Game 5 back in Philly if they don’t find a way to finish.

Like finishing at the basket. Miami in Game 3 was 25-for-46 on shots at the rim, missing layups and short jumpers, many on shots intimidated by Philadelphia’s 7-foot, 260-pound center Joel Embiid, who officially was credited with five blocks and whose rim protection “won us the game,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

Like finishing at the free-throw line. Coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t mask his feelings after Saturday’s loss. The Heat let one get away, partly by missing nearly half of their foul shots, going 13-for-25 from the line.

Like finishing defensive possessions. Miami has been crushed on the glass in the series (and was outrebounded 57-43 in Game 4), but the 76ers have done particular damage with offensive rebounds at crucial times to score on putbacks or by kicking them out for 3-pointers.

But, mostly, the Heat have to get better at finishing games — or their season will be finished after one more.

For the third straight contest the Heat allowed Philadelphia to go on a scoring blitz in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, the 76ers turned a two-point game into a cruise by outscoring Miami 32-14 in the final 12 minutes. Had Wade’s heroics not saved the Heat after their 16-point lead was cut to 2 in the fourth quarter of Game 2, the series would already be over.

On Saturday, Miami led 81-71 with 3:09 to play in the third quarter. From there, the 76ers went on a 21-4 run, bolstered by missed shots close to the basket, blown defensive assignments and poor rebounding by Miami. Wade scored seven straight points as Miami cut a seven-point deficit to one in the closing seconds, but he also missed a crucial free throw in the final seconds. Miami also let 76ers rookie guard Ben Simmons barrel down the lane uncontested for a two-handed dunk and on Philadelphia’s next possession left J.J. Redick, one of the NBA’s best shooters, all alone for an easy jumper.

“It was one of those moments where, for me, I just wanted us to get a stop or two,” Wade said. “I felt like I could win us one at home. We couldn’t get it. We made some mistakes down in the end. They made us pay. … Whether it’s getting offensive rebounds or miscommunications, we had to do a better job.”

The series has been physical, fast, fun and highly competitive. Neither team is acting like it’s a 3-1 series.

“We are going to Philadelphia looking forward to playing for an amazing home-court advantage,” said Brown, who said his team probably had “no right winning” Saturday’s game after how sloppily it played the first three quarters and finishing with 27 turnovers. “We are going to come in, bunker down and try to get better. We sure hope that equals a win.”

His young, talented point guard echoed the sentiment. “We have to finish it,” Simmons said. “We have to be locked in for that game coming up.”

Spoelstra knows his team has to finish or be finished.

“We all feel that we’re this close, and that’s what makes this game tough,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve had a tough time finishing games against Philadelphia, and that’s been the issue.”

Who should be NBA’s MVP, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year? Heat coach and players reveal their picks

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) goes up for a shot against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI — With the NBA regular season coming to a close, awards season is near.

After Sunday’s practice, we asked coach Erik Spoelstra and nine Heat players who they would vote for as the league’s Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year. Continue reading “Who should be NBA’s MVP, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year? Heat coach and players reveal their picks”

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. Continue reading “Where will the Heat finish in the Eastern Conference playoff race? A look at where they stand”

Our Miami Heat reporters’ predictions for the 2017-18 NBA season

The Palm Beach Post’s NBA playoff bracket. (By Adam Hirshfield)

The NBA season kicks off tonight with Golden State looking to become the first team since the Miami Heat in 2012 and 13 to repeat. With everybody returning and Finals MVP Kevin Durant even more comfortable after a year in the system, the Warriors could be even better than the team that won 67 games last year and defeated the Cavaliers in five games in the Finals.

But some of their biggest challengers loaded up with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony joining league MVP Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City and Houston gambling on a James Harden-Chris Paul backcourt.

The East underwent changes, too, with Cleveland and Boston pulling off the stunner of the summer by swapping point guards Kyrie Irving (to the Celtics) and Isaiah Thomas (to the Cavs). LeBron James also convinced Dwyane Wade to join him in Cleveland and the Celtics added Gordon Hayward.

Our Heat writers, Tom D’Angelo and Anthony Chiang teamed up to make The Palm Beach Post’s playoff and postseason awards picks.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Boston Celtics

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

3. Washington Wizards

4. Toronto Raptors

5. Miami Heat

6. Milwaukee Bucks

7. Philadelphia 76ers

8. Charlotte Hornets

Eastern Conference playoffs

First round

Boston over Charlotte

Cleveland over Philadelphia

Washington over Milwaukee

Miami over Toronto

Second round

Boston over Miami

Cleveland over Washington

Conference Finals

Cleveland over Boston

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Golden State

2. Oklahoma City

3. Houston

4. Minnesota

5. San Antonio

6. Denver

7. Portland

8. L.A. Clippers

Western Conference Playoffs

First round

Golden State over the Clippers

Oklahoma City over Portland

Denver over Houston

Minnesota over San Antonio

Second round

Golden State over Minnesota

Oklahoma City over Denver

Conference Finals

Golden State over Oklahoma City

NBA FINALS

Golden State over Cleveland

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on while playing the Chicago Bulls during a pre season game at Quicken Loans Arena on October 10, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Cleveland

If nothing else, James will be motivated more than ever thanks to the Irving drama and losing to the Warriors in the Finals. And without Irving, he will take on more responsibility. Let’s face it, LeBron can pick his number when it comes to scoring and he will pick a number that is enough to earn him his fifth MVP Award.

Dennis Smith Jr. #1 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after a basket against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on October 13, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas

The No. 9 overall pick in this year’s draft has been compared to players like Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Damian Lillard just because of the athleticism he brings to the point guard position. With the Mavericks not expected to make the playoffs this season, Smith should get plenty of opportunities to rack up big numbers.

D’Angelo Russell #1 of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket against Josh Richardson #0 of the Miami Heat in the second half during their Pre Season game at Barclays Center on October 5, 2017 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Most Improved Player: D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn

Russell has not lived up to being the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, getting lost in the Lakers rebuilding/tanking mode the last two years. He was traded for two reasons: To make room for Lonzo Ball and as incentive for the Nets to take Timofey Mozgov’s contract. But Russell is skilled and he will become one of the Nets’ top options, which should result in his production soaring.

Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets reacts during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon, Houston

Gordon won this award last season and he’ll win it again this year. He flourished in his first season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, making a career-high 3.3 3-pointers per game at a 37.2 percent rate. Gordon will get even more open looks this season with Chris Paul joining James Harden in Houston.

Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors in action against Nemanja Bjelica #8 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State Warriors as part of 2017 NBA Global Games China at Mercedes-Benz Arena on October 8, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, Golden State

Golden State finished with the NBA’s second-best defensive rating last season. Want to know why? Just look at Green play defense. He can guard every position on the floor. The Warriors’ defense will be one of the best in the league again and Green will win this award for a second consecutive season.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts during the game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State Warriors as part of 2017 NBA Global Games China at Mercedes-Benz Arena on October 8, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota

The Timberwolves are headed in the right direction after adding Jimmy Butler to the improving Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Minnesota had the third-worst record in the West last season (31-51) and we predict a big jump to around 48 wins.

All-NBA

First team

G: Russell Westbrook, OKC

G: Stephen Curry, Golden State

F: LeBron James, Cleveland

F: Kevin Durant, Golden State

C: Anthony Davis, New Orleans

Second team

G: James Harden, Houston

G: Kyrie Irving, Boston

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee

C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota

Third team

G: John Wall, Washington

G: Chris Paul, Houston

F: Draymond Green, Golden State

F: Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers

C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami

[Anthony Chiang’s Miami Heat predictions: Josh Richardson will have a breakout season]

[Tom D’Angelo’s Miami Heat predictions: Hassan Whiteside will be recognized as one of the league’s best]

 

 

Eastern Conference Power Rankings: After bringing back last season’s core, where do the Miami Heat stand?

MIAMI — This offseason isn’t done yet and teams still have some moves to make.

But at this point we have a pretty good idea of how teams will look next season. We also have a pretty good idea of where teams stand in the Eastern Conference. Continue reading “Eastern Conference Power Rankings: After bringing back last season’s core, where do the Miami Heat stand?”

Mailbag: With free agency winding down, where do Miami Heat rank in the East?

The Miami Heat should move ahead of teams who have decided to rebuild, like the Chicago Bulls. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Even with about 90 players remaining on the market, free agency is winding down.

The Miami Heat lost out on Gordon Hayward, their main target, but Pat Riley re-signed James Johnson and Dion Waiters, picked up Wayne Ellington’s contract and added Kelly Olynyk.

Where does Miami stand in the East? We answer that and more in today’s mailbag. If you weren’t able to ask a question, send them for future mailbags via Twitter (@Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44).

From: ChrisHypeTrain: How serious of contender do you see the heat being in the east?

I don’t know if anybody other Cleveland and Boston are contenders, but let’s take the question a bit further and examine where Miami ranks in the East.

The first thing is to look at the teams that finished tied or ahead of Miami last season that the Heat have passed. That list includes Chicago, Indiana and Atlanta. All three teams are in full rebuild mode.

That leaves five teams ahead of Miami from the final standings. To me, the top four – Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Milwaukee – have the edge. The Cavs remain the team to beat. The Celtics added Hayward, although they took a hit losing Avery Bradley and Olynyk. Toronto and Washington bring back the core of teams that won 51 and 49 games, respectively.

That leaves Milwaukee, which is where I believe the Heat also fall in. The Bucks won one more game than Miami last season. They will be boosted by having Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton (barring further injuries) each for a full season, but are they appreciably better than Miami?

The Heat had the second best record in the NBA the second half of the season and basically return that entire group plus add Olynyk and first-round pick Bam Adebayo.

To me, the Heat enter the season battling the Bucks for the fifth best team in the East. Could they finish in the top 4? It’s possible but barring a major injury to any of the top four teams, that will be difficult.

From @bballin13: How do you think Bam is doing in the SL and do you think it will keep going in the regular season?

The Heat are very pleased with what they have seen so far from the 14th pick in the draft.

Bam turned heads in Orlando with his athleticism and versatility. We knew he was a finisher around the rim, had the ability to block shots and could run the floor. But he has shown intriguing ball handling skills that typically defy most players who are 6-foot-10. It seems like every game we see a clip of Bam clearing a rebound and taking the ball coast-to-coast. Coach Chris Quinn at times even has instructed Bam to take the ball down the court and initiate offense.

As for stats, Bam was fifth in Orlando with 17.5 points per game, second with 8.3 boards and tied for second with 2.3 blocks. He did shoot just 35.2 percent, but that number is skewed by his worst offensive game of the summer when he was 1-of-10 from the floor against the Knicks.

Bam followed that game up with a double-double in the Heat’s first summer league victory in their first game in Las Vegas. He scored 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds.

As for the regular season. Mid-first round picks typically do not make an immediate impact. Look for Bam to get his minutes but Miami will be patient, especially after adding Olynyk and bringing back Johnson, which gives it nice depth up front.

[Chris Bosh to Miami: ‘You showed me how to stay strong and push through in the toughest moments’]

[Patience and confidence paid off for Dion Waiters: ‘I’ll bet on myself any day’]

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Could a weakened Eastern Conference push Gordon Hayward away from the Jazz?

ORLANDO — As the Heat wait to hear Gordon Hayward’s decision, the Eastern Conference continues to weaken.

Even before the start of free agency, Indiana traded four-time All-Star Paul George to Oklahoma City and Chicago traded three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. Since free agency began, Paul Millsap has left the Hawks to sign with the Nuggets.

Just with those transactions, the Heat have a chance to move past the Pacers, Bulls and Hawks in the East’s power rankings. After finishing as the ninth-best team in the conference last season, that would probably be enough to push Miami into the group of eight East teams that make the playoffs even if the Heat just brought back last season’s core. Continue reading “Could a weakened Eastern Conference push Gordon Hayward away from the Jazz?”

Playoff update: Heat fall out of playoffs after Pacers win; can regain eighth spot with win tonight

The Heat need a win tonight in Charlotte to jump back into the playoff picture. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE – The Miami Heat have fallen back into the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference and out of the playoffs. … for now.

Indiana’s victory over Toronto Tuesday moved the Pacers, 38-40, one half game ahead of the Heat, who remain 37-40 entering tonight’s big game at Charlotte.  A win tonight, though, and Miami moves  back into the eighth spot.

The Heat did receive some good news Tuesday while they were idle. The Hornets, who had won 7-of-9, lost in Washington to fall to 36-42, 1.5 games behind Miami and remain 10th . And the Bulls, also surging with four straight wins, found out how the Heat felt last Friday by losing to the Knicks.

The Bulls fall back to 38-40, tied with the Pacers, one half game ahead of Miami. Chicago, though, is No. 7 because it owns the tie-breaker over the Pacers by virtue of a better division record.

The Heat can jump back into a three-way tied with the Bulls and Pacers by beating the Hornets tonight. If that happens, the Bulls would remain No. 7 and the Heat would move into the eighth spot because of tie-breakers.

The Bulls have the easiest schedule remaining of the three with four games against teams with losing records – at Philadelphia, at Brooklyn, home against Orlando and Brooklyn.

After facing the Hornets, the Heat go to Toronto and Washington and finish with home games against Cleveland and Washington.

The Pacers host Milwaukee before traveling to Orlando and Philadelphia and finishing up at home against Atlanta.

No. 5 Milwaukee lost some of its momentum by losing at Oklahoma City. The Bucks remain fifth, one half game ahead of No. 6 Atlanta.

[Despite recent struggles, Heat still believe they are in good position to make playoffs]

[Dion Waiters will not play Wednesday vs. Hornets, but could join team on three-game trip]

[Heat really miss Dion Waiters down the stretch in close games]

[Want more Heat news sent directly to your Facebook feed? Make sure to like our Heat Facebook page]

 

Blow delivered by Knicks staggered Heat, but it wasn’t a knockout punch

 

Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra and the bench look on in the final minute of Miami’s loss to the Knicks Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

MIAMI – Get used to it. Nothing will be easy the final 11 days of the season.

The Heat dropping a game to the lowly, undermanned Knicks on Friday should not be shocking. Just as Chicago recently falling to Philadelphia shouldn’t be. Or Indiana losing 5 of 6. Or Detroit having a tough time beating. … anybody.

But look at the standings, every one of those teams – Miami, Indiana, Chicago and even Detroit and Charlotte – remain alive for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs for one reason. …

None of them are good enough to separate.

Welcome to the battle at the bottom of the brackets, where sometimes the best way to gain ground is to be off. (See: Chicago Friday night).

The Heat (37-39) squandered a chance to open up some breathing room Friday, but this blow delivered by the 18-game-under-.500 Knicks was far from a knockout punch. Which is why trying to figure out who is going to grab those final spots by counting the wins and losses remaining on the schedule is risky business.

Every team in this scrum is capable to losing to anybody. And every team is capable of beating anybody.

Nobody has proven that more than the Heat, who are 2-0 against the Rockets and 2-1 against the Cavaliers but 1—3 against Magic and 1-2 against the Knicks.

“Those are the most dangerous teams because they have nothing to lose,” Goran Dragic said about the games against the bottom dwellers that many see as automatic Ws.

“They already have plans where they’re going to go after the season. They play freely with no pressure. Even if they miss a shot, they don’t care. It’s a dangerous game.”

The Heat have six games remaining, split between home and the road, starting at 6 o’clock tonight when they host Denver. The anxiety level was amped after losing to New York because of that schedule. After facing the Nuggets at home and Charlotte on the road on Wednesday, Miami finishes with four games (at Toronto and Washington, home against Cleveland and Washington) against teams with a combined winning percentage of .611.

“We knew for the last month this would be one of the most difficult things we would have to do,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And this is a great opportunity still.

“(But) when you have expectations a game is supposed to go the way you want it to, that gets you in the wrong mind frame.”

[Heat guard Goran Dragic on potential game-tying layup, ‘I make that 10 out of 10 times’]

[Heat guard Tyler Johnson on working out after Knicks loss, ‘It’s just something I needed to do for me’]

For the Heat, the only way to approach this final week and a half is as if that other uniform is blank across the chest. After all, this is a team that has proven it can just as easily beat Cleveland on the road as it can lose to Orlando at home. … twice.

“I think we want it so bad that sometimes we try to self-will,” James Johnson said.

“We can’t do that. We got here as a team. We’ve got to keep going as a team.”

The Bulls victory over Atlanta on Saturday created a three-way tie with Miami and Indiana for the seventh and eighth seeds. Chicago takes over the No. 7 seed by virtue of the three-way tiebreaker. The Heat, though, would hold onto a playoff spot as the eighth seed because is owns the tie-breaker over Indiana.

To extend its season, Miami has to finish ahead of just one of those teams. Figuring Detroit and Charlotte have too steep a hill to climb and Atlanta and Milwaukee are secure in the fifth and sixth spots, Miami, Indiana and Chicago are battling for Nos. 7 and 8.

The doomsdayers cannot help but look ahead and will say the Bulls, with all six remaining games against teams with losing records, has the advantage, Dwyane Wade or no Dwyane Wade.

So that narrows it down to Miami and Indiana, which have similar schedules (three home games, three road games, four games against playoff bound teams). Miami, though, has the advantage having won the season series, 2-1.

“It feels like you are alive. It’s great, I mean great,” Dragic said about this playoff push even after a deflating loss against the Knicks.

“Everybody wants to be in this position. I don’t want to (go home) April 12. I want to be in the playoffs. It’s an unbelievable experience. We feel like every time we were in a bad situation, we always find a way to bounce back and to play well.”

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