As soon as the Miami Heat clinched a playoff berth with a come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, the first words center Hassan Whiteside uttered to sideline reporter Jason Jackson in his postgame interview was how much he was looking forward to seeing a sea of white again inside AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I can’t wait for the White Hot fans, [to] look up in the crowd, see Heat Nation in all white,” said Whiteside, who got to experience it in the Heat’s playoff run two seasons ago when Miami pushed the Raptors to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. “It’s been too long. A year is too long for me.”
In its previous 19 trips into the postseason, the Heat has never won a first-round series in which it didn’t have home-court advantage, losing twice as a No. 5 seed and three times as a No. 8 seed. But one thing the Heat has been since moving into the AAA in 2000 is a dominant home team in the playoffs.
In fact, Miami owns the fourth-best home playoff winning percentage since 2000 (73-23, .760) behind only the Warriors (39-9, .813), Lakers (80-21, .792) and Cavaliers (48-15, .762). Only the Spurs (90-36, .714) and Lakers have won more home playoff games over that stretch.
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This Heat team, which was hovering around .500 at home in early February, has gone 12-2 at home since acquiring Dwyane Wade at the NBA trade deadline. Only Houston (13-0) and Philadelphia (13-1) have been better at home over that stretch.
Regardless of which team the Heat draws in the first round, players feel there’s a real home-court advantage that has been established, and that could help propel the Heat (which is 17-22 overall on the road this season) to a first-round upset.
“The energy — it’s amazing energy in this building,” said Wade, who is 69-22 in playoff games at AmericanAirlines Arena. “I was telling some of the new guys the first game I came back against Milwaukee — that was playoff atmosphere. I said, ‘This is how it is in April, May and so forth.’
“Our fans take a lot of flak from the outside about being late, and all these things, but when our fans are in this building it’s still one of the loudest places to play and you feed in,” Wade continued. “I look forward to our young guys being in that environment.”
Said Whiteside of home playoff games in Miami: “It’s a different level. The crowd and the energy that they bring, it’s just different and I miss it.”
Still, pulling off a first-round upset of a top three seed will not be easy. Since the NBA went to a seven-game series format in the first round beginning with the 2003 playoffs, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 seeds have only won 11 of the 90 series played in the opening round.
The No. 6 seed has advanced seven times, with Brooklyn the last sixth seed to pull off an upset in the opening round in 2014.
The only No. 7 seed to advance since 2003 was the 2010 Spurs. Eighth seeds have had better success with three teams pulling off first-round upsets since 2003: the 2007 Warriors, the 2011 Grizzlies and the 2012 76ers.
Since 1984, when the league expanded to eight playoff teams in each conference, only three No. 6 seeds advanced past the conference semifinal round: the 1995 Rockets, who went on to win the title, and the 1989 Bulls and the 1984 Suns, who each lost in the conference finals.
The only No. 7 seed to advance beyond the conference semifinals, the 1987 Seattle SuperSonics, were swept in the conference finals.
The 1999 New York Knicks are the only No. 8 seed to advance beyond the conference semifinals. Those Knicks, which knocked off Pat Riley’s No. 1-seeded Heat in Round 1, lost to the Spurs in five games in the Finals.
Miami has never been the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the playoffs before. The Heat has been the No. 8 seed three times — including the last time in 1996 — and has been swept twice.