Miami Heat: Can they maintain their top-5 standing in East?

The Miami Heat are currently 33-25 and the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. (Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sport)

Don’t look now, but according to the Eastern Conference standings, the Miami Heat are a top-5 team in the East.

During a 48-hour span–from Sunday evening to Tuesday evening–the Heat vaulted from the No. 8 spot in the East to No. 5, leaping the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic.

Miami is currently tied with Philadelphia and Indiana for the No. 5 spot, but owns the three-way tiebreaker because they lead the Southeast Division. In contrast, neither the 76ers nor Pacers lead their respective divisions. Weird, I know, but let’s review the NBA’s tiebreaker rules!

For two teams (in order):

  1. Head-to-head record.
  2. Division leader wins a tie over another team that isn’t.
  3. Division record (if they are in the same division)
  4. Conference record.
  5. Better winning percentage against playoff-eligible teams in the same conference.
  6. Better winning percentage against playoff-eligible teams in the opposite conference.
  7. Point differential.

For three (or more) teams tied:

  1. Division leader wins tie over others that aren’t.
  2. Head-to-head against one another.
  3. Division record (if they are in the same division).
  4. Conference record.
  5. Better winning percentage against playoff-eligible teams in the same conference.
  6. Point differential.

The Miami Heat have won five straight, seven of their last eight and nine of their last 11. Over this 11-game stretch, they sport the NBA’s second-best defense and fourth-best NET Rating; that all comes in spite of possessing the 15th-best effective-field goal (55.0) and true-shooting percentages (58.4), 16th-best 3-point percentage (36.6) and 17th-best offense over that span.

But can the Heat maintain their current standing in the East?

For one, there’s an o.5-game difference between the No. 5 and 8 seeds. That makes your body clench in it of itself. Let’s peel the orange a little more, shall we?

Over their final 24 games–including Thursday’s NBA Finals rematch against the Denver Nuggets–the Heat have the fifth-easiest schedule across the league, according to Tankathon.

Only one team in this four-team mix–Orlando–has an easier schedule (they have the easiest … by far). The other three teams that have an easier slate are the top-seeded Boston Celtics, lowly Memphis Grizzlies and the struggling Brooklyn Nets.

Including Thursday, Miami has 13 home games and 11 road games left on its schedule. It’s one of three teams in the East and one of five leaguewide with a better road record (18-12) than home record (15-13). The Heat are also one of four teams (Grizzlies, Wizards, Warriors) with a better road NET Rating (1.6) than at home (0.0).

The Heat will also have only five of their final 24 against teams who are currently top-10 in point differential–including three straight from March 20-24 against the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Pelicans, per Cleaning The Glass. Miami’s struggled against such teams, going 3-15 (24th) in those games with a minus-7.0 point differential (20th)–despite a minus-1.1 NET Rating (12th; they’re unlucky!)–in such games.

For comparison, the Pacers, who have 13 of their final 22 on the road, have the 12th-most difficult schedule with seven against teams with a top-10 point differential; the 76ers, who have 14 of 24 away from home, own the ninth-easiest schedule with nine against the top-10 in point differential; the Magic have nine of their final 23 on the road with five against the league’s top-10 in point differential.

Even New York, who’s only 1.5 games ahead of Miami, closes the season with the 15th-easiest SOS and five against the league’s top-10 in point differential–four of those (12 total) on the road.

It also helps the Heat are getting incredibly efficient production from their superstar forward in Jimmy Butler. He’s averaging 23.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 2.4 steals on 56.8 percent shooting and a remarkably efficient 68.5 percent true-shooting over his last seven games. That’s the most important factor in all of this.

Given how much time is left, it would be a difficult trek for the Heat to catch a top-3 seed; it’s not an easy road to surpass New York, who’s been up-and-down lately due to their myriad injuries (even though the Heat have been the most unhealthy contender across the NBA, from top-to-bottom).

There’s a world where the Heat steal homecourt away from New York, though there’s also equally the possibility one of the other teams bunched up gets hot and jumps Miami for the No. 5 or, worse, the No. 6 (or 7) seedings. It’s an ultra-tight race for a top-6 seed, one that behooves Miami to maintain positioning in.

Where do you think the Heat end up in the East when it’s all said and done? Let us know in the comments!


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Miami Heat at times goes the harder path you know to make them better, tougher, more resilient? And agitate us in the process haha (nervous laugh). For me I just want them to avoid play-in for the extra rest so #6 would suffice. I still predict a 20-7 run after the allstar which is on track for 50 wins. Also hoping everyone will be healthy in last 10 games of regular season.


That is whet I hope for or better 3rd seed. The East is very competitive this season, that 3 to 8 seed rankings are volatile. Seems only the #1 seed is guaranteed, that even the #2 seed may swing before the season ends

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