Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat moved closer to clinching the No. 6 seed and a potential first round date with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night without doing a thing.
The Heat, which entered the day with a half game lead over Washington and Milwaukee in the conference standings, extended its lead to a full game over both teams when the Bucks were upset at home by the Brooklyn Nets and the Wizards blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter on the road at Cleveland.
Miami (43-36) owns the tiebreaker with both Milwaukee (42-37) and Washington (42-37) and a potential three-team tiebreaker between the teams if they were to finish tied. So, with wins in two of its last three games, Miami, which plays its final road game against the Knicks (27-51) Friday at Madison Square Garden, can win its way to the No. 6 seed and a first round playoff matchup with the No. 3 seed.
The Cavaliers (49-30) are third in the East with a half game lead over fourth-place Philadelphia (48-30). Cleveland, which has won three consecutive conference titles, plays at the 76ers on Friday in a game that will go a long way in determining the No. 3 seed. Philadelphia has won 12 consecutive games, but is without All-Star center Joel Embiid (orbital fracture).
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
With a win Friday, Cleveland would extend its lead to 1 1/2 games over the Sixers and also secure the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Sixers.
The Cavaliers, the only team in the East the Heat has never faced in the playoffs, finishes the season with back-to-back games against the Knicks and would then need to win only one of those two games or one more Philadelphia loss to clinch the third spot. The Sixers close out the season against the Mavericks (24-55), Hawks (22-57) and Bucks.
Even if the Heat wanted to try and avoid a first round matchup with Cleveland by losing its last three games, it would still need help. Washington and Milwaukee would have to win at least two of its final three games if Miami decided to tank.
The Wizards wrap up the season against the Hawks, Celtics and Magic (24-54) and the Bucks close out against the Knicks, Magic and Sixers.
The most desirable spot for a first round matchup among the bottom three seeds most would argue is finishing as the No. 7 seed in the East because that team is likely to face the injury-riddled Boston Celtics (53-25), who lost All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to season-ending knee surgery on Thursday.
The No. 8 seed, meanwhile, is in line to face the No. 1 seeded Toronto Raptors (56-22).
Miami returns home to play its final two games against Oklahoma City (45-34) on Monday and Toronto on Wednesday.
The playoffs begin the weekend of April 14-15.