In the fading weeks of the 2017 National Basketball Association season, the hometown Miami Heat are in the midst of a dogfight for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Heat started the season with an abysmal 11-30 record, including a six-game losing streak, followed by a five-game losing streak. With the starting lineup marred by injuries to Justise Winslow, Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts, Miami scrambled to piece together an NBA-caliber starting squad. Embarking on a daunting January road trip in which the Heat finished 1-5, many anticipated that the Heat simply bow out of competitive play and vie for a lottery pick.
Center Hassan Whiteside commented following the road trip, “We just looked ourselves in the mirror and said, ‘We gotta wake up. We gotta play better.‘”
As February rolled around, players began to return from injury, and confidence levels rose. Taking advantage of a weak schedule, the Heat valiantly fought for a thirteen-game winning streak, landing the team square in the playoff hunt.
Quality play through March has kept Miami in the thick of things, but they still find themselves behind former player Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Miami would need to beat Cleveland and Washington to slide into the eighth seed, with help from the lowly Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets in beating Chicago. Miami could also move into a playoff spot with an Indiana loss to Atlanta, under the condition that Miami wins their final game.
Shooting guard Tyler Johnson says, regarding the playoff race, “That’s all we can do, You can only control what you can control. We understand what we were able to do the second half of the season when people were kicking dirt on us. That’s the only way you can go out and finish the season with a win and we need a win to have an opportunity to get into the playoffs. We can’t control what other people do.”
Dion Waiters, arguably the best player for the Heat down the stretch, remains questionable for the final games, being out for the past eleven with a sprained left ankle. Waiters’ absence from the lineup could prove to be the crushing blow to Miami’s season, as Heat fans eagerly wait an announcement.
The Heat close their season on April 12th against the Washington Wizards in a crucial game that has playoff implications for at least three teams.