Yes, the Heat’s situation would be more enviable if the Indiana Pacers — who hadn’t won even two in a row since early February — hadn’t suddenly reeled off three consecutive victories. It would be more enviable if Miami hadn’t dropped recent home games to New York or Denver.
But considering the 11-30 depths from which the Heat has risen, merely having a chance to make the playoffs entering the final week is remarkable.
“I constantly mention to these guys, you don’t want any other life in this league than playing for something significant and having that feeling of every single game, where it has meaning,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It would be a shame to live in another world like that where the games don’t mean anything.
“What do you want as a pro athlete? You want a life more ordinary? Really? You want to play. These guys in the locker room right now feel alive. You can’t pay enough money to feel like that, regardless of what the results are.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
There are a few scenarios where the Heat — which stands ninth in the East — could make the playoffs, but all require help. The easiest path: Winning the final two at home against Cleveland on Monday and Washington on Wednesday and hoping that Chicago or Indiana loses once.
The seventh-seeded Pacers (40-40) play at the 76ers on Monday and home against Atlanta on Wednesday. Miami owns the tiebreaker against Indiana.
It would be a shame to live in another world like that where the games don’t mean anything.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra
The Bulls (39-41) have home games against Orlando on Monday and on Wednesday against Brooklyn, which beat Chicago on Saturday to leave the Bulls with the same record as Miami but holding the eighth spot over the Heat by virtue of the tiebreaker.
According to Elias, even if the Bulls and Pacers win out, the Heat also would qualify for the playoffs if Miami goes 2-0 and Milwaukee loses to Charlotte and Boston.
“How ever the chips fall after we take care of what we can take of, we can live with,” Heat forward James Johnson said. “But we can’t live with giving somebody else the option of getting us out.”
What’s more, there’s a real chance the Heat could get Dion Waiters back from an ankle injury that has sidelined him for 11 games.
The Heat listed Waiters, Josh McRoberts and Luke Babbitt as questionable for Monday.
Babbitt has missed three games with a hip flexor, and McRoberts (foot) has been out since late December.
Though the Heat has a difficult remaining schedule, Miami is a combined 5-1 against Cleveland (2-1) and Washington (3-0).
“They definitely got our number,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal, whose team is now locked into the fourth seed, said after Miami’s 106-103 win on Saturday. “We got to play them again.
“They are fighting and clawing. Every time we have played them they’ve been the aggressor.”
Wizards guard John Wall, who committed eight turnovers in Miami’s 106-103 win on Saturday, cited something else, too:
“They are a good defensive team, and they play hard,” Wall said. “When you get leads against those guys, they don’t tend to quit. That’s how their team is programmed. They do a great job of shooting the ball, driving.
“They just put us in tough binds, helping with Hassan Whiteside on pick and roll, and they have a lot of shooters outside than can help. Whiteside does a great job of taking away passes that you try to find to your big man and find to the shooters. Give those guys a lot of credit.”
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, will be motivated on Monday because they’re battling with Atlanta to clinch the No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers have indicated they won’t rest veteran players as long as the top seed remains unresolved.
“Having two big games in front of our home crowd … guys wouldn’t want it any other way,” Whiteside said. “It’s felt like playoffs for the last month.”
The Heat cannot clinch a playoff spot on Monday, but it could be eliminated if it loses to the Cavaliers and the Pacers and Bulls win.
But if Miami beats Cleveland, it will ensure that it will go into Wednesday’s finale still in contention for postseason.
“This is what we live for,” guard Goran Dragic said. “The players want to be in this position. You feel alive.
“It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of nights you don’t sleep because you’re so anxious for other results or your games. Some players like this; some players don’t. All the players in this locker room feel the same, that we deserve it and fight to the end.”
THIS AND THAT
Whiteside, after being held scoreless in the previous two first halves, scored 16 of his 30 in the first half against Washington and said he is very conscious now of getting off to a good start.
He said it helped having “a little less wrap” on his right hand, which was injured 2 1/2 weeks ago and still has 13 stitches.
Whiteside, who blocked Beal’s three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to preserve Saturday’s win, now has four games of at least 30 points and 10 rebounds this season, the highest single-season total for a Heat player since LeBron James had six in the 2012-13 season.
Monday: Cavaliers at Heat
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 61-43.
Scouting report: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving sat out Cleveland’s previous game against the Heat, but the Cavs indicated they won’t rest players until the No. 1 seed is resolved, and it won’t be before Monday’s game. Miami lists Dion Waiters as questionable for Monday. Waiters has missed 11 games with an ankle injury. Miami is 27-19 when he plays, 12-22 when he doesn’t. Miami has won two of the first three games between the teams.