The Miami Heat may be fighting the Indiana Pacers for the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, but the team that might be a bigger problem in the postseason for the two-time defending NBA champions is Brooklyn.
The Nets swept the season series with the Heat with their 88-87 victory in Miami Tuesday night. With the win, the Nets became the first team to sweep a four-game series against the Heat since the 2007-08 season, when the Heat won only 15 games.
The loss kept the Heat from gaining a two-game advantage over the Pacers in the “lost” column in the East standings. It was the Heat’s 24th setback. The Pacers have 25 losses. Both teams have 53 wins.
The Heat and Pacers will meet for the fourth and final time in the regular season Friday night in Miami. Between now and then, the Heat play at Memphis Wednesday and the Pacers are at hapless Milwaukee the same night.
The loss to the Nets adds another twist to the playoff scenario, however.
Depending on how things shake out between now and the end of the regular season on April 16, the Heat and Nets could be on a collision course to meet in the second round, assuming the Nets can get by a likely first-round matchup against the Chicago Bulls, which they couldn’t do last year despite having home-court advantage in the seventh game.
Certainly sweeping the season series with two of the wins coming on the Heat’s home floor should give the Nets a confidence boost, but regular-season dominance is no guarantee of playoff success.
In their championship run last season, the Heat went 2-2 in the regular season against Chicago but won their playoff matchup 4-1. The year before, they went 1-3 against Boston in the regular season and won their playoff series in seven games.
And it’s not like the Nets have run the Heat out of the gym. One of their wins came in double overtime, and the other three were by one point, including this latest one.
It should be noted that neither team was at full strength Wednesday night.
The Heat were without all-star guard Dwyane Wade for a seventh straight game as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury sustained late in the loss to the Pacers back on March 26.
Also, Udonis Haslem, who has moved into the starting lineup recently, sat out the game with the stomach flu. Greg Oden also was out because of back spasms, and Chris Andersen was limited by back problems.
For the Nets, they were without Kevin Garnett, who also is contending with a back problem.
Both teams should be healthy by the time any potential playoff matchup comes up so that should add to the intrigue.