Saturday, April 1, 2023

Heat sit back and clinch top seed in Eastern Conference with losses by Celtics, 76ers

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The Miami Heat had a nice off day Thursday evening, as both the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers lost, which secured them the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. With the top spot locked up in the East, Miami could hit cruise control for the last two games in the regular season if they choose. 

Miami finished atop a crowded field, and started to catch fire at the start of the new year. In the first week of January the Heat were ranked fifth in the East, but steadily climbed up the rankings, and have been shuffling in an out of the top spot since the All-Star break. 

The journey to the Heat claiming the No. 1 spot in the East has once again been fueled by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, along with new addition Kyle Lowry. With that trio of defensive stoppers the Heat have employed the fourth-best defense in the league (108.2 ppg), and own the sixth-best net rating (4.8). 

The emergence of third-year guard Tyler Herro has also been a difference maker for Miami. The former Kentucky product is Miami’s second-leading scorer, averaging career highs in points (20.8), rebounds (5) and assists (4). He’s doing all this while coming off the bench, and he’s become the frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year.

This season has been a turnaround for the Heat, after finishing last season sixth in the East and getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. Although Miami has the third-best odds in the East to win the NBA Finals per FiveThirtyEight, the Heat have a recent history of surprising people when the postseason rolls around. It’s only been two years since Miami made an improbable run to the Finals in the Orlando bubble, and this team is better than the one that made it back in 2020. 

With the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage locked up, the Heat will have to wait until the play-in tournament is finished to see who their first opponent will be in the playoffs. If the postseason started today and we just took the top eight teams, Miami would face the Brooklyn Nets, which would be a highly-entertaining first round. 

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