MIAMI (AP) — Miami has caught Indiana in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. That might be a problem.
As strange as it may sound, the path to the East finals might be easier for the team finishing No. 2 in the standings, and not the team that ultimately finishes with that first seed. Imagine this scenario: The Heat claim the No. 1 seed, then have to face the New York Knicks in the first round. And if they survive that, the Chicago Bulls or Brooklyn Nets would probably be waiting in the conference semifinals.
The Heat haven't beaten Brooklyn yet this season. They've had struggles with Chicago. There's no franchise that's created more postseason pain for Miami than the Knicks. Now imagine this scenario: The Heat finish with the No. 2 seed, open the playoffs against the Charlotte Bobcats, then advance to meet the Toronto Raptors.
Since LeBron James moved to Miami, the Heat have played the Raptors and Bobcats a combined 29 times. They're 29-0 in those games. Then again, the Hawks, Knicks or Bobcats would probably rather face an Indiana team that could be on the brink of implosion rather than a Miami squad that has won the last two titles and might be hitting its defensive stride.
That all being said, there's still a couple weeks left in the regular season. There's still plenty of things to sort out. Miami and Indiana will finish No. 1 and No. 2 in some order, and if they meet in the conference finals — a preconceived notion for much of the season that looks like a bit of a shaky proposition now — then having home-court for a Game 7 would come in quite handy. Everything else is still up for grabs, so it's way too early to write any playoff brackets in ink.
Here's a look at some of the biggest games left, the ones that could ultimately decide who winds up where in the East playoff race:
WEDNESDAY, DETROIT at INDIANA: It's hard to remember that the Pistons beat San Antonio this season. They're 5-18 since. But the Pacers are in serious trouble right now. They can't shoot, they can't score, they seem to be sniping at one another and the No. 1 seed they've spent all season chasing is, at least for now, not in their hands. If Detroit wins this game, Indiana could go into an absolute tailspin.
APRIL 8, BROOKYLN AT MIAMI: The Heat beat all 29 other clubs last season. They've beaten 28 of the 29 this season, with the Nets the lone exception. Brooklyn is 3-0 against the Heat, winning twice by a single point and the other time in double-overtime. Mentally, Miami will need this one, especially if these two meet up in the conference semifinals or finals.
APRIL 9, CHARLOTTE AT WASHINGTON: This game could go a long way toward shoring up the bottom half of the East bracket. And the Wizards might still be smarting from blowing a 16-point second-half lead in what became a 100-94 loss in Charlotte on Monday.
APRIL 11, INDIANA AT MIAMI: This doesn't need much explanation. Two teams that don't like each other, either playing for seeding or sending one last message before the playoffs.
APRIL 15, NEW YORK AT BROOKLYN: This could turn out to be a game the Knicks absolutely have to have to get into the postseason. Can't imagine the Nets enjoying anything more than dashing those plans.
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