Miami Heat

Currently in East’s final playoff spot, Heat still faces uphill climb to make it. Here’s why

With 16 regular-season games remaining, the Heat’s playoff chances are still very much in question.

Miami holds the eighth and final spot for the Eastern Conference playoffs. But according to some, the Heat (31-35) faces an uphill climb to hold on to that spot because of its difficult remaining schedule.

Entering Tuesday, the Heat had just a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs and was projected to finish with a 37-45 record, according to FiveThirtyEight.com’s playoff predictions. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index had the Heat with a 37.7 percent chance of making the playoffs.

“I want our guys to embrace it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have the kind of guys who are having fun with this challenge. It’s not about, ‘Hey, we just need to come in and find a way to have a smile on our face and joke around.’ No, no, no. Our guys are having fun with the competition and having meaning to this and responding to a really tough time of our season and playing much better basketball after that tough stretch. We have competitive guys that like these games where there’s a reward and a cost to a win and a loss.”

Every game left on Miami’s schedule comes with stakes, but especially Wednesday’s home game against the Pistons. Eighth-place Miami is three games behind seventh-place Detroit, and a loss to the Pistons would put the seventh seed even further out of reach.

“Extremely important,” Justise Winslow said of Wednesday’s matchup against the Pistons. “I’m sure both sides understand the importance of this game coming up; another Eastern Conference battle. Obviously, we’re neck and neck in the playoff race. This one is going to be extremely important.”

The Pistons cruised to a 119-96 win over the Heat in Miami on Feb. 23 and lead the season series over Miami 2-1.

“Detroit just brought a great game, and they outplayed us,” Spoelstra said of that loss. “They’re up 2-1 in the series. Both teams, I’ve said this before, they know what’s up.”

As it is now, the best the Heat can hope for is to climb to the sixth spot. Miami is 3.5 games behind No. 6 Brooklyn, but nine games behind No. 5 Boston.

The teams chasing Miami for the eighth and final playoff spot aren’t far behind. The Heat is one game ahead of the No. 9 Magic and 1.5 games ahead of the No. 10 Hornets.

According to FiveThirtyEight.com’s playoff predictions, the Magic has a better chance than the Heat of making the postseason. Orlando entered Tuesday with a 65 percent chance of earning a playoff spot because of a relatively soft remaining schedule.

The Heat has the seventh-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA based on the current combined winning percentage of teams left to play at .541, according to Tankathon.com, with 10 of its final 16 games coming against teams currently in playoff spots. The Magic has the fourth-easiest remaining schedule with an opponent winning percentage of .456, and just six of its final 14 games against teams currently occupying playoff spots.

“You’ve got to be looking now,” Dwyane Wade said when asked if he keeps track of the standings. “It’s that time of the year now. I’ll be checking it out. I’m sure other guys have. You just want to see from game to game if we lost ground or we’re gaining ground and where you’re at. You want to have your eyes on it. I think it’s important.”

Heat wing player Josh Richardson is questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Pistons because of right hamstring soreness.

Two-way contract forward Duncan Robinson has rejoined the Heat from the organization’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls, the team announced Tuesday.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.
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