The Miami Heat return to the NBA Playoffs after a one-year absence and will face a tough challenge to get out of the first round. Miami is likely to earn the No. 6 seed but there are still multiple scenarios in play. All of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference could still be a first round opponent. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.
Toronto Raptors- No. 1 seed
This is an unlikely opponent for Miami unless they suddenly implode and fall to the eighth seed. Toronto is locked into the top spot and the teams will close out their regular season when they face each other on April 11th. The teams split the first two games and the contests were close with both games being decided by less than three points. Although Toronto has cooled off a bit of late, losing half of their previous ten games, prior to that they rattled off an 11 game winning streak and will present a huge challenge should the Heat face them. Demar Derozan is having a great year averaging 23 points and five assists, and Toronto has a balanced lineup with four players averaging at least 12 points per game.
Boston Celtics- No. 2 seed
Like Toronto, the Celtics have secured their playoff seeding but enter the playoffs battling multiple injuries to key players. The latest to be lost is point guard Kyrie Irving who underwent a second knee surgery and will miss the remainder of the season. His likely replacement Marcus Smart has been battling a thumb injury and Terry Rozier has been battling an ankle injury in recent weeks. Miami actually took two out of three games against Boston, and given the injury situation Heat Nation has to be optimistic even if Miami falls to the seven seed.
Philadelphia 76ers- Current No. 3 seed
Philly is the hottest team in the NBA, winners of 13 straight including an instant classic on April 6th against Cleveland. Ben Simmons is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year and Philadelphia should have center Joel Embiid back from facial surgery for the playoffs. Embiid and Heat center Hassan Whiteside have a budding rivalry and the teams have a bit of animosity which makes for highly entertaining and competitive matchups. The last time they faced off on March 8th Whiteside had one of his best games of the year, finishing with a team high 26 points and added eight rebounds. Miami split their four regular season games and would face a talented yet inexperienced Sixers team. If the Miami Heat can steal a road game early and put doubt in the mind of the young team from Philadelphia, it could be a first round upset.
Cleveland Cavaliers- Current No. 4 seed
Last but certainly not least are the Cleveland Cavaliers led by Lebron James. After a drama filled middle of the season, the Cavaliers have seemed to stabilize at least in the personnel on the court. Head Coach Tyronn Lue has been battling health issues in the second half of the year, but returned to the bench on April 5th. Mid-season trades to jettison Isaiah Thomas to the Los Angeles Lakers and return Dwyane Wade to Miami made the Cavs younger and more athletic. Miami lost two of three to Cleveland but took the last matchup on March 27th 98-79, the season low scoring total for Cleveland. Despite that effort as Heat fans know, playoff Lebron is on an even higher level than regular season Lebron and the Cavs will definitely be ready.
No matter the opponent Heat Nation has to be excited that the team is back in the post-season. Erik Spoelstra did a masterful job early in the season with rotations to find the right mix between injuries and inconsistent play. There was no early season collapse to dig out from and Miami is poised to at least make some noise in the first round. The Heat will start the playoffs on the road and will need to win at least one game away from the American Airlines Arena to move on. Given the return of Wade and their hunger, along with a coaching staff that has been there before, it would be wise not to overlook the Miami Heat if you are one of the aforementioned teams.
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