The Miami Heat will need do something it hasnt done for most of the season to avoid the play-in tournament: String together a bunch of wins over a month-long stretch.
After losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-100 on Wednesday night at Miami-Dade Arena, the Heat fell further into play-in tournament territory with just one month left in the regular season.
The Heat is in seventh place in the Eastern Conference at 35-32, entering Thursday three games behind the sixth-place Brooklyn Nets and four games behind the fifth-place New York Knicks with only 15 regular-season games left to play. To escape having to qualify for the play-in tournament, the Heat needs to finish as a top-six playoff seed in the East.
I dont look at the standings, Im not going to lie to you. I dont, Heat star Jimmy Butler said ahead of Fridays rematch with the Cavaliers (8 p.m., Bally Sports Sun and NBA TV) to close a six-game homestand. I dont look at none of that stuff. So Im guessing were in the play-in, right? Well, we better winning some games to get out of that. If we dont, then we better win whenever the play-in starts.
The tiebreaker with the Knicks is still up for grabs, but the Nets have already clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Heat by winning the first two meetings in the teams three-game season series. That means Miami is essentially four games behind Brooklyn since the Heat doesnt hold the tiebreaker edge.
With the Nets entering Thursday with a 37-28 record, Miami would need to go 11-4 through its final 15 games to pass Brooklyn if the Nets hypothetically close with an 8-9 record over its final 17 regular-season games.
Through statistical analysis,FiveThirtyEightprojects the Heat to finish the regular season as a play-in tournament team as the seventh seed in the East with a 43-39 record.
The play-in tournament takes place during the nearly weeklong window between the regular season and the start of the playoffs, beginning April 11 and ending April 14. The seventh- through 10th-place teams compete for the final two playoffs seeds in each conference.
How is the play-in tournament structured?
The No. 7 seed in each conference hosts the No. 8 seed in one of the play-in games. The winner of this matchup in each conference earns the seventh playoff seed.
The No. 9 seed in each conference hosts the No. 10 seed in another play-in game. The loser of this matchup in each conference is eliminated from playoff contention, and the winner of this matchup in each conference will go on the road to take on the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 play-in game for the right to the eighth playoff seed.
So the teams with the seventh-highest and eighth-highest winning percentages in each conference will each have two opportunities to win one game to earn a playoff spot. The teams with the ninth-highest and 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference each has to win two consecutive games to earn a playoff spot.
As it stands Thursday, the No. 7 Heat would host the No. 8 Atlanta Hawks in a play-in game with the Easts seventh playoff seed on the line. The No. 9 Toronto Raptors would host the No. 10 Washington Wizards in the other East play-in game.
According to a source, the No. 7 vs. No. 8 play-in game in each conference would be Tuesday, April 11 and the Easts final play-in game between the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 game and the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game in each conference would be Friday, April 14.
The reward for the two East teams that escape the play-in tournament?
The No. 7 seed will take on the No. 2 seed in the first round of the playoffs. The Boston Celtics are currently the second seed in the East.
The No. 8 seed will take on the No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs. The Milwaukee Bucks are currently the top seed in the East.
▪Of using the Heats one-day break between Mondays home win against the Hawks and Wednesdays home loss to the Cavaliers to travel to the other of the country to attend the Lakers retirement of Pau Gasols jersey on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, Butler said:Very important for me. Pau has been a brother to me from obviously our Chicago days. He really taught me how to be a pro, what its like being a champion, me wanting to be there one day and I wouldnt miss that for the world.
I miss him, as I tell him all the time. We stay in touch all the time and Im sure Ill see him this summer whether it be in Cali, in Spain. Someway, somehow, Im going to find a way to sit down and havesome dinner with my guy.
Butler and Gasol were teammates with the Chicago Bulls for two seasons from 2014 to 2016.
▪The Heat played its 37th game decided by five points or less of the season on Wednesday and is on track to close the regular season with 45 such games, which would set a league record. The NBAs all-time team record for the most games decided by five points or less during a single season is 41 by the Denver Nuggets in 1977-78.
▪Left knee soreness will force Heat point guard Kyle Lowry to miss his 15th consecutive game on Friday against the Cavaliers. He has not played in a game since Feb. 2.
While the Heat has not offered a definitive timetable for Lowrys return, the belief hes close to coming back. The expectation is Lowry will return before the end of the season and possibly within the coming days.
Rookie forward Nikola Jovic also remains out for the Heat as he continues his G League assignment with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. The only other player on the Heats injury report for Fridays game is forward Kevin Love, who is listed as probable with a right rib contusion.
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