The Miami Heat Need to Secure the Fourth Seed
Shattering even the most optimistic expectations, the Miami Heat have been one of the pleasant surprises of the NBA this season. Quickly establishing themselves as one of the six elite teams in the East, the Heat have been jostling for playoff seeding ever since. As the season enters the stretch run post All-Star break, it’s critically important the Heat lock up a top four seed going into the playoffs.
With a crisp ball movement system, some hot shooting from 3-point range, and their signature hard-nosed defense, the Miami Heat came barreling out of the gate. Though the Milwaukee Bucks pulled away the pack, the Heat were still in a tightly packed middle ground with the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors. While at one point they had gotten as high as the two seed, the Heat have been steadily slipping in play over the course of the season. Injuries have played their part, but the defense has been slipping and the ball not moving as well as it was at the start of the season. Post All-Star break, the Heat have dropped three of four games to terrible non-playoffs teams, a worrying start to the stretch run.
As the playoff picture starts to take shape, it’s imperative the Heat secure the fourth seed. The Bucks are the runaway first seed and flirting with a 70-win season. The Raptors and Celtics have separated themselves from the pack and look to jostle for the second and third seeds. With the Pacers still trying to get Victor Oladipo in game shape and unfortunately losing Jeremy Lamb for the season, they look destined for the sixth seed, but aren’t entirely out just yet. That leaves the Heat and 76ers as the fourth and fifth seeds and a first round matchup. Both teams are excellent at home (Heat 23-4, 76ers 27-2) but terrible on the road (Heat 13-18, 76ers 9-21), so whichever team gets the higher seed and game seven at home will have a huge advantage.
Going into March, the Heat need to get themselves back on track and back to winning. Erik Spoelstra led teams have typically done better after the All-Star break over the last few years, as he tightens down the rotations and pushes the Heat to the limit. The Heat’s schedule is beneficial too, with 14 of 24 games at home. Additionally, the Heat have an easier ending to the season, with the 17th ranked remaining strength of schedule according to tankathon.com. Unfortunately for them, the 76ers have the 28th ranked remaining strength of schedule, so there will be minimal margin for error. Lastly, the Heat are looking to get back Meyers Leonard and rookie sensation Tyler Herro from injury, both deeply missed during this rough February. Add in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder getting further acclimated to the Heat after being traded there and the Heat will have a deep rotation to help them secure the fourth seed and homecourt in the first round.
Currently, the Heat and 76ers are separated by a hair’s breadth. Whichever team lands the fourth seed will have a huge advantage over the other. Fortunately for the Heat they own the tiebreaker of the 76ers with a 3-1 record against the 76ers during the regular season. With an easy home heavy schedule, a return to what made them such a great team, and a little health luck, the Heat have everything they need to lock down the fourth seed. While the stretch run can be boring for some teams, it’ll certainly be exciting for Heat fans. It’s time to execute now.