The Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks staged what looked like a playoff preview on April 12. After the Heat seemed to lock up the East's No. 1 seed by beating the Indiana Pacers on April 11, facing the soon-to-be eighth seeded Hawks appeared inevitable. But the Hawks not only officially clinched the eighth seed with a 98-85 win over the Heat, they put Miami's No. 1 seed in jeopardy yet again.
As much as the Pacers have done to give up the No. 1 spot in the East, they can take sole possession of it right back by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 13. The Hawks gave them that chance by catching the Heat in a hangover, as Lou Williams powered them at the end with 18 fourth quarter points.
The Heat beat the Pacers without Dwayne Wade, yet lost to the Hawks even with Wade back and scoring 24 points. LeBron James added 27, but thanks in part to only 34 points from players other than James and Wade, Miami never led for most of the second half.
In the long term, the Heat could count this as a win because Wade came back healthy and effective, right on time for the playoffs. Considering how the Pacers have fallen apart, the Heat have to feel confident that they could beat them in a conference final, even if a Game 7 is in Indiana.
Of course, Miami and Indiana have to reach that Game 7 and conference final -- which hasn't looked like such a given for either team lately. Yet this is still a weak enough Eastern Conference for the 37-43 Hawks to clinch the last playoff berth, and for the far more expensive New York Knicks to miss out on overtaking them.
Although Atlanta did beat Miami on this night, the odds of them doing it more than once in a playoff rematch -- if at all -- are still very long. If the Hawks face the Pacers, however, they might have a more open window if Indiana doesn't start waking up.
The Pacers can start by taking advantage of their new gift, especially against a Thunder team already locked into the No. 2 seed out West. Since the Heat only have to face the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers to close their regular season, this could be the last lucky break the Pacers get.