Playoff Push: Analyzing the Miami Heat’s Final Eight Games of the NBA Regular Season

New York Knicks v Miami Heat

New York Knicks v Miami Heat

We are at a very important moment in the 2022-23 Miami Heat season. Has it gone as planned, or as wished? Nope. But there’s still time to make noise, and with eight games left in the regular season, there’s no better time than now to make said noise.

Let’s dive into their road ahead as we conclude this chaotic regular season.

March 25: vs. Brooklyn Nets (39-34)

NBA: Are the Nets contenders to dethrone the Lakers or merely a ticking timebomb? | Marca

Skinny: The Nets have been Jekyll and Hyde since the trade deadline. They beat Miami 116-105 on Feb. 15, behind a career performance from Mikal Bridges, which was their only win in a stretch of seven games. They turned up the notch a little from March 3-12, winning five of six before undergoing their current five-game losing streak, though each of their last four losses has come by six or fewer points.

Six of their final nine games will be at home, but their final contest against Miami will be in the 305. They have won four of their last five road bouts, with wins against the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics. Miami has played well at home of late, winning six of their last seven inside Miami-Dade Arena, 25-13 overall. It’ll be a bout between two feisty squads hoping to avoid the play-in.

March 28: @ Toronto Raptors (36-38)

Raptors optimistic about core, look to add pieces before trade deadline

Raptors optimistic about core, look to add pieces before trade deadline

Skinny: The Raptors are 4-5 over their last nine, including a dominant 21-point win over the Detroit Pistons after two straight to the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers by a combined 11 points. Pascal Siakam did have a slight step back in production, but he’s looked dominant of late, contributing 32 points and nine boards on 12-of-19 shooting against Detroit.

Jakob Poeltl has been a breath of fresh air in the middle, posting averages of 14.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.6 blocks in 28.7 minutes. Since his team debut on Feb. 10, the Raptors are plus-7.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, compared to a minus-8.9 when he’s not. That’s drastic.

Toronto is another team fighting for playoff positioning — or, shall I say, play-in positioning. They are currently a half-game up on the Chicago Bulls for the No. 9 seed and three games ahead of the No. 11-seeded Pacers.

Miami has scuffled on the road this season, while Toronto’s played well at home. And the Heat-Raptors play basketball games like it’s the Hunger Games. We’ll see who fares out on top, even though this will inarguably be a tough one for Miami to win.

March 29: @ New York Knicks (42-33)

Highlights: Denver Nuggets 110-116 New York Knicks in NBA | 03/18/2023 - VAVEL USA

Skinny: The Heat will play their fourth-and-final matchup against the Knicks on March 29. Their first two meetings came down to the final possession, while their most-recent matchup — on Wednesday — resulted in a seven-point Heat victory, courtesy of a very-locked-in (dare I say playoff?) Jimmy Butler. He finished with 35 points, four rebounds, nine assists and four steals on 11-of-19 shooting.

After New York was winners of nine straight, they have lost six of their last nine, including three straight to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Heat and Orlando Magic (second night of a back-to-back). Their only other game between now and this matchup is a March 27th home contest against the Houston Rockets, which we know where they stand at this point of the season.

Nevertheless, the Knicks have lost some rope in the East standings, only two games ahead of Brooklyn for the No. 7 seed and 1.5 ahead of Miami, who’s the No. 6 seed. They’re another that will come out swingin’ over this final stretch, especially in front of their home crowd in MSG.

April 1: vs. Dallas Mavericks (36-38)

The Dallas Mavericks city uniform rollout is a homespun slice of nostalgic goodness - Mavs Moneyball

Skinny: Since Kyrie Irving made his debut on Feb. 8, Dallas hasn’t found a rhythm together, in part because they haven’t been healthy at the same time very often. The Mavericks are 4-5 with a minus-1.3 NET rating when at least one of Irving and Luka Doncic are inactive, per PBP Stats; they’re the definition of mediocrity (3-3 W-L, 0.0 NET) with one active and sputtering (1-2, -3.3) when neither are. Oh, and they’re 3-7 with a 0.5 NET in games when both have played.

Do the #math, the Mavericks are 7-12 with a middling minus-0.6 NET Rating since Irving made his debut. Their defense has also been the seventh-worst (118.1 DRTG) since the All-Star Break. It all appeared to hit rock bottom Friday, losing 117-109 at home to the Charlotte Hornets, a bottom-four team in the Association, subsequently falling out of the play-in entirely with eight games left.

They’re beatable, though Miami got waxed in their first meeting in Dallas on Jan. 20, 115-90. It was one of the worst Heat performances to date, shooting only 20.0 percent from distance (4-20) while getting outscored by 42 points from distance. You have to think Miami will come out more desperate in this one, but Dallas — considering where they’re at in the standings — will, too.

April 4: @ Detroit Pistons (16-58)

Evaluating the Detroit Pistons Starting Lineup Possibilities – Palace of Pistons

Skinny: The Pistons, who have lost 16 of their last 17 games and possess the NBA’s worst record, are the worst team within this eight-game slate. Miami made it interesting in their most road affair on Sunday, but still won by 12 after outscoring Detroit 20-4 to close it.

April 6: @ Philadelphia 76ers (49-24)

2022-23 Season Preview: Philadelphia 76ers |

Skinny: By this point, the Sixers likely locked up some sort of seeding within the top-3 of the Eastern Conference.

The Sixers have been one of the best teams in the NBA since the turn of the calendar, having gone 28-10 — second to only the Milwaukee Bucks (30-8) — with the second-best NET Rating (6.1) over that span. Since the start of March, Philadelphia is a league-best 10-3 with an 11.4 NET Rating — nearly three points greater than the next-closest team (Bucks – 8.4).

Despite Friday’s loss to Golden State, they’re cruising. They’re 1.5 games back of Boston of the No. 2 seed and four back of Milwaukee. Their contest against Miami will be the front end of a back-to-back, and a potential first-round preview depending on how things shape out.

April 7: @ Washington Wizards (33-41)

NBA: Ready for the Wizards to hurt me again - Bullets Forever

Skinny: Before last night’s 12-point win over the San Antonio Spurs, the Wizards were losers of seven of their last eight and nine of their previous 11; their only two victories over that span came over the lowly Pistons by two and 20 points, respectively. The Wizards are 2.5 games back of Chicago and three back of Toronto. It’s unclear how much the franchise is willing to push-pull its playoff hopes, but it’s not looking good right now.

April 9: vs. Orlando Magic (31-43)

Orlando Magic midseason “Most-likely-to...” awards - Orlando Pinstriped Post

Skinny: The Magic are in a similar position with the Wizards, though they typically play Miami tough. Since it’s the last day of the regular season, expect Miami — who will likely know its playoff standing by then — to rest a bunch of players, similarly to last year in its regular season finale against Orlando.

Can they avoid the play-in?

The next two games against Brooklyn and New York will speak volumes, but let’s zoom out for a second.

Since Kevin Love made his debut, the Heat has been nearly four points better per 100 possessions offensively, but have taken a hit defensively (6.2 points worse). They have fluctuated their screen coverages and have reverted back to more man-to-man, which in turn has put more strain on the back-line and has not been fruitful for their defense in the paint and beyond the arc. Love, specifically, lacks foot speed and has not shot the ball well at all, but has still made measurable impacts rebounding and playmaking in the mid-to-high post.

Regardless, Jimmy Butler is playing like a top-5 player, Tyler Herro knows how to turn it on in clutch situations and Bam Adebayo has looked more like himself defensively than he had over the few weeks prior. Every game in this stretch is a winnable game. There are ways to exploit Miami’s defense, which will be a challenge against Philadelphia, Dallas and New York. But Miami’s shooting luck is slowly regressing back to the mean (positively) and its nine-man rotation is slowly looking more gelled now than it did over the previous 60-plus games.

This is the time of year when teams play extra desperate. Miami is one of those teams. It goes without saying that the Heat surely would prefer not to have to play either Atlanta, Toronto or Chicago just to make it into the playoffs. The opportunity to squeak into a top-5/6 seed is right there for the taking. And, luckily for the Heat, they play the ninth-easiest schedule the rest of the way.

Buckle up, the last eight games are about to be a whirlwind.

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