The battle for the third through sixth Eastern Conference playoff seeds seems destined to remain unsettled until the season’s final day, with Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston and Miami all bunched tightly.
And unless Detroit, which is 3.5 games behind Miami, surges late and one of the other teams unravels, that means the Hawks, Hornets, Celtics and Heat will likely play each other in the first round.
“Every time we take control of the third spot and control our own destiny, we have a tendency to not have a great performance,” Joe Johnson said after the Heat fell to sixth momentarily with Saturday’s 110-93 loss in Portland. “We would love to have homecourt advantage in the first round.”
UPDATED AFTER SUNDAY'S RESULTS: After Charlotte's loss to Cleveland today and Boston's win at the Lakers, Atlanta and Boston are both 45-32 and in third and fourth. The Heat and Charlotte are 44-32, with Miami 5th and Charlotte 6th at the moment.
“We believed the whole time we’d be in the playoffs, so it’s good to clinch but it’s not a surprise,” Heat forward Luol Deng said. “We’ve really got to focus on us and trying to figure it out right now. How can we go into the postseason being at our best?”
Finishing third (or sixth) would mean not having to face likely top seed Cleveland until the conference finals, should the No. 3 or No. 6 seed make it that far. Other key points to keep in mind:
• Remaining schedules: Boston would seem to have the easiest of the four and Charlotte the most difficult.
In order, Miami plays at home against Detroit and Chicago (both on TNT), at Orlando, home against the Magic, at Detroit and at Boston.
After today's Lakers game, the Celtics meet both New Orleans and Milwaukee at home, then play at Atlanta, and finish at home against both Charlotte and the Heat.
Atlanta plays Phoenix, Toronto and Boston at home, then closes at Cleveland and at Washington.
And Charlotte (after this afternoon's Cleveland games) plays at Toronto and at the Knicks, then home to the Nets, then at Washington and at Boston, and then home to Orlando.
• Settled tiebreakers: The Heat already has clinched a tiebreaker against Atlanta, by virtue of its 3-1 season series edge. Miami is assured of losing a tiebreaker to Boston, who won the first two meetings between the teams, with one game remaining.
Atlanta and Boston have each clinched tiebreakers against Charlotte.
• Unresolved tiebreakers: The Heat and Hornets split their four games, and any tiebreaker between those teams will come down to division record. That, at this point, would favor the Heat, which is 9-5 in the division with only two games left (both against Orlando).
Charlotte is 7-7 in the division, with games left at Washington and against Orlando. If the Heat and Hornets finish with the same division record, conference record would be the next tiebreaker, and that would favor Charlotte.
• Three-team tiebreakers: A multi-team tie would favor a division winner, regardless of whether all the tied teams are in the same division. In several scenarios, this would favor the Heat.
Say Miami, Charlotte and Boston tie for third through fifth. If the Heat can win one of its last two against Orlando, the Heat would be guaranteed a better Southeast Division record than Charlotte and thus would be the division champion if the teams finish tied. And Boston already has lost the Atlantic Division to Toronto. So that three-team tiebreaker would favor Miami, according to the NBA.
HEAT MULLS ROSTER SPOTS
The Heat plans to fill its two open roster spots between April 9 and 13, once it’s assured of not passing the tax threshold.
The Heat has been strongly looking at signing one established player and one developmental project, though the thought of signing two developmental players hasn’t been ruled out.
We’re told Miami has been giving legitimate thought to ex-Heat forward Dorell Wright, back from playing in China, but he’s one of several on Miami’s list. The Heat also is considering D-League point guard Briante Weber but has not given him a commitment.
• The Heat flew home on Sunday and will get a better sense on Monday about how soon Dwyane Wade can return from back and neck soreness after missing two games.
• For tidbits on Josh McRoberts, the Heat's draft situation and more, please see this....
• And here is my story that apparently upset some Cavs fans.
• And check back later for more on the Dolphins, Marlins, Panthers and Canes. That post is now up.