NBA playoff race: Heat coming apart at wrong time, suddenly in danger of having to face Nets in first round

The Miami Heat have gone from a near-lock to claim the East’s No. 1 seed to being just one game up in the loss column on both the Bucks and Sixers, and just two on the Celtics, with nine games to play. 

Miami has taken two disastrous losses over the past three days, first falling to the Sixers, who were playing without Joel Embiid and James Harden, before completely melting down against the Warriors — who were without, among others, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. 

Fortunately for the Heat, they currently own the tiebreaker over both Milwaukee and Philadelphia by virtue of their better conference record, so the lead there is effectively two games. Boston might be the biggest threat. For starters, the Celtics own the tiebreaker vs. Miami via a 2-0 head-to-head advantage. Second, Boston still has one game against the Heat remaining, on March 30, at Boston. 

Including the Celtics date, Miami faces six teams who are currently fighting for their own playoff/play-in positioning over their final nine games, including the Nets, Bulls, Raptors, Hornets and Hawks. The Celtics, to be fair, have an even tougher home stretch, but there isn’t a team in the league playing better than them right now. You have to like their chances to finish strong. 

And here’s the problem: With three teams all within range of overtaking the Heat, if only one of them does it, and the Heat end up as the No. 2 seed, that could very well mean a first-round matchup with the Nets, who are about to get Kyrie Irving back on a full-time basis and could have Ben Simmons by the time the postseason rolls around as well. 

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