The Miami Heat missed out on an opportunity Monday night to make things a little easier on its scouting department.
A win over the Oklahoma City Thunder would have clinched the Southeast Division title and eliminated the possibility of the Heat opening the playoffs as the No. 8 seed on the road at top-seeded Toronto.
Instead, three possibilities remain Tuesday as seeds for the Heat (No. 6, No. 7 or No. 8) and so does the prospect of facing four different opponents (No. 1 Toronto, No. 2 Boston, No. 3 Philadlephia or No. 4 Cleveland) in the opening round.
A couple scenarios could be eliminated as early as tonight, but the bottomline is the Heat, seeded No. 7, will not know where it will open the playoffs until after the regular season wraps up on Wednesday.
Here is what you need to know:
▪ The Heat (43-38) can clinch the Southeast Division and eliminate Toronto (59-22) as a first round opponent on Tuesday if No. 8 Washington (42-38) loses at home to the Celtics (54-26).
▪ Miami can cross Cleveland (50-31) off the list of potential first round opponents on Tuesday if third-seeded Philadelphia (50-30) wins at Atlanta (24-57).
Why? If the Sixers then beat Milwaukee on Wednesday Philadephia clinches the No. 3 seed regardless if Cleveland wins its final game against the Knicks. If the Bucks beat Philly, the Heat cannot finish any higher than the No. 7 seed and would open the playoffs at either Boston or Toronto.
▪ In the event the Bucks, Heat and Wizards finish tied at 44-38, the Heat would be the No. 6 seed and open the playoffs at either Philadelphia or Cleveland. In the event the Heat and Bucks are the only teams tied at 44-38, Miami would still finish as the No. 6 seed because it won the head-to-head series with Milwaukee 3-0.
▪ If Philadelphia and Cleveland finish tied at 51-31, Cleveland would finish as the No. 3 based on its better conference record. The only way the Cavs would meet the Heat in Round 1 in that scenario is if Miami beats Toronto and Philadelphia loses to Atlanta, but beats Milwaukee.
▪ If the Bucks win Wednesday to clinch the No. 6 seed, and the Heat and Wizards finish with the same record at 44-38 or 43-39, Miami would win the division and play at Boston as the No. 7 seed in Round 1 based on its better division record. Washington would then open at Toronto.
▪ Thus, the only scenarios in which the Wizards or Bucks finish ahead of the Heat in the Eastern Conference pecking order is if they finish with better overall records than Miami. So, in order for the Heat to finish as the No. 8 seed and face the Raptors in Round 1 it would need to lose Wednesday against Toronto and Washington would have to win its last two games.