WASHINGTON - The Heat cannot clinch a playoff spot or be eliminated when it plays the Wizards here at Verizon Center on Saturday night.
But during a critical 4 1/2 hour stretch tonight, Miami will learn a lot more about its playoff chances. Four games affect the Heat:
Chicago, currently holding the seventh seed at 39-40, plays at Brooklyn at 5 p.m. on NBA TV. Indiana, currently holding the eighth seed at 39-40, plays at Orlando at 6 p.m.
The Heat, currently out of playoff seeding and in ninth in the East at 38-41, plays at Washington at 7 p.m. And Milwaukee, the sixth seed at the moment at 40-39, plays at Philadlephia at 7 p.m.
A fifth game, Boston at Charlotte at 6 p.m., also could affect the Heat because it potentially impacts what kind of team Cleveland puts on the floor against the Heat on Monday.
Ten things to keep in mind:
• The Heat owns a two-team tiebreaker with Indiana and Milwaukee, by virtue of winning the season series, but loses a two-team tiebreaker to the Bulls.
• The Heat is in pretty good shape when it comes to three-team tiebreakers.
If Miami, Chicago and Milwaukee finish tied for two playoff spots, Miami would be the first team to get in by virture of a 4-3 combined record against the other two, compared with 4-4 for Milwaukee (which won three of four against the Bulls) and 3-4 for Chicago.
• The Heat would also be the first team to get in if there’s a three-way tie among the Heat, Bucks and Pacers. The Heat was a combined 5-2 against the other two. Milwaukee was 4-4 and Indiana 2-5.
• The Heat would be the second team to get in if Miami, Chicago and Indiana finish tied for the final two playoff spots. Chicago would get in as the seventh seed by virtue of its 4-3 record against the other teams.
Miami was 3-3 against the other two, and Indiana would lose out after going 3-4 against the other two.
• The problem with Chicago is not only do the Bulls have a one-game lead and the tiebreaker over Miami, but they have an easy schedule with the Nets twice and a home game against the Magic.
• Overtaking Indiana would be easier, not only because Miami owns the tiebreaker but also because the Pacers have two road games (at Magic, at 76ers), then a home game against an Atlanta team that might be playing for seeding.
• The Heat trails the Bucks by two games but could still theoretically beat them out for a playoff spot if the Bucks collapse in the next few days. Besides the game at Philadelphia today, the Bucks host Charlotte on Monday and play at Boston on Wednesday.
• The Wizards are expected to play their regulars as long as they have a chance to claim the three seed, which likely would mean a second-round matchup against Boston and not Cleveland. Washington trails Toronto by 0.5 games for the third seed.
If the third seed is still in play on Wednesday, Miami likely will see Washington’s entire team. Otherwise, the Wizards might rest their best players.
• Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he will play his regulars as long as the No. 1 seed is still up for grabs. Cleveland leads Boston by one game and can clinch the top seed if the Celtics lose at Charlotte at 6 p.m. today and Cleveland wins at Atlanta on Sunday.
If those two things happen, Cleveland likely wouldn’t play at least one, or perhaps any, of its stars on Monday at Miami. But if the No. 1 seed is still in doubt, Lue’s comments suggest LeBron James would play on Monday.
• The Heat could still catch No. 5 Atlanta if Miami wins its last three and the Hawks lose their last three. Yes, that’s a lot to expect. Besides hosting Cleveland on Saturday, the Hawks host Charlotte and play at Indiana.
For my post today with an in-depth look at Tyler Johnson, who has a big backloaded contract and spoke introspectively about wanting to reach another level, please click here.