The Heat will open their playoff run Sunday afternoon when they host the seventh-seeded Charlotte Bobcats. (3:30 ET, ABC). Game 2 is set for Wednesday night, also in Miami.
The best-of-seven series switches to Charlotte for the next two games next Saturday and the following Monday (April 28).
The Heat are entering the playoffs on a down note, having lost five of their last six games, but the last two defeats came after the Heat had conceded the race for No. 1 and they rested both LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the losses to Washington and Philadelphia.
In the last meaningful game they played, they lost at Atlanta just a day after beating the Pacers to assume the East lead by a half-game. When the Pacers beat Oklahoma City last Sunday, they moved to within one win of clinching the top spot. Then when the Heat lost to Washington on Monday night the Pacers’ game with the Magic became moot.
All that losing doesn’t speak very well for either of the two teams that at one point were virtually conceded a matchup in the East finals. The Heat went only 3-6 in April and the Pacers stumbled home with a 6-9 mark over their last 15 games.
All of a sudden, the playoff route the two favorites face has some unexpected significance.
And the Heat might have gotten a break there.
The Pacers find themselves with the prospect of facing one of the hottest teams in the league, the Chicago Bulls, in the second round -- assuming they can get by Atlanta in the first round and the Bulls are able to dispose of Washington. The Bulls won 10 of their final 13 games in the regular season
Of course, the Heat don’t exactly have a cupcake waiting in the second round. If they dispose of the Bobcats, they face the winner of the Toronto-Brooklyn series.
The Heat swept all three games of the season series with the Raptors and lost all four meetings with the Nets, but three of the games were one-pointers and the fourth came in double overtime. All-star guard Dwyane Wade played in only two of the meetings with the Nets.
Two things here:
1. Regular-season results often have little impact on playoff prospects.
2. By dropping down to the No. 2 seed, the Heat avoid the prospect of facing a physical Bulls team that has given them trouble in the past and potentially would have worn the Heat down with its physical play and workman-like defense.
Maintaining their health (Wade’s knees and hamstring, James’ back, and Chris Andersen’s back) has to be a high priority for the Heat as they go after a third consecutive title. That could have been more at risk in a series with the Bulls than one with either the Raptors or Nets figures to be.