The Miami Heat will have a difficult time replicating their recent postseason success in the 2023 NBA playoffs. After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in two of the last three years, the Heat might be fortunate to win one postseason series.
The Heat were a Jimmt Butler 3-pointer away from beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of last year’s conference finals. Miami hasn’t played like a championship contender in the regular season, going 40-35 through the first 75 games. With seven games left on the schedule, the Heat are the No. 7 seed in the East standings. Miami is two games behind the No. 5 seed New York Knicks and quickly running out of time to avoid a first-round matchup with a top-three seed in the East.
Miami could be headed for a spot in the play-in tournament and an extremely difficult first-round matchup. Let’s take a look at the Heat’s nightmare seeding scenario matchup for the 2023 NBA playoffs.
Heat fall to No. 9 seed, must win two play-in tournament games
Landing in the play-in tournament would be bad enough. Falling to the No. 9 seed in the standings and needing a 2-0 record in the play-in tournament just to earn a spot in the final playoff bracket would be a nightmare scenario for Miami.
The Heat can’t coast down the stretch of the regular season. Miami is only three games ahead of the No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks and No. 9 seed Toronto Raptors, which share the same record. Blowing a three-game lead with seven games left is highly likely, though far from impossible. Miami is set to visit Toronto on Tuesday. If the Raptors defeat the Heat, Miami’s lead over Toronto will drop two just two games, setting up a potentially disastrous scenario for the reigning Southeast Division champions.
Miami is in the play-in tournament field and outside of the playoff bracket because of Saturday’s loss against the Brooklyn Nets. The Heat were blown out 129-100 at home in what was a pivotal game for both teams. The victory gave the Nets the tiebreaker over the Heat. Brooklyn is the No. 6 seed, even though it has the same record as Miami.
The Nets haven’t been a good team since they traded Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Brooklyn also has the easiest schedule left of any team in the NBA. Lucky for Miami, Toronto and Atlanta have two of the most difficult remaining schedules.
First-round matchup with Giannis and the Bucks
There are several scenarios in which the Heat will be forced to play the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs. Milwaukee is the No. 1 seed in the East with eight games left. If the Heat fall to the No. 9 seed, the No. 1 seed would be their only possible first-round opponent. The Heat could lose their first play-in game as the No. 7 seed and set up a first-round matchup with the Bucks by winning their second play-in matchup. There’s also a chance that the Celtics catch Milwaukee atop the standings, pitting the Bucks and Heat against each other in a No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchup.
No matter how it happens, a meeting with the Bucks in the first round would be the worst possible matchup for the Heat. There are reasons to believe that Miami could upset—or at least challenge—Boston or the Philadelphia 76ers in a playoff series. The Heat eliminated the 76ers in last year’s second round amid yet another James Harden disappearing act. One series later, Miami pushed Boston to the brink in the final seconds of Game 7.
The Heat had no such luck when they last saw the Bucks in the playoffs. Not even close. Milwaukee swept Miami in the first round of the 2021 playoffs. The Bucks survived the series opener with a 109-107 overtime victory. The Heat were barely competitive in the next three games, losing by an average of 26.7 points.
Like most of the NBA, the Heat have no answers for Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP averaged 31.9 points on 57.4% shooting when he last faced Miami in the playoffs. The Bucks are 2-0 against the Heat this season when Antetokounmpo plays. The Greek Freak had a 35-point triple-double in the first win. Milwaukee dismantled Miami 128-99 three weeks later.
The Bucks rank second in defensive efficiency. The Heat have the worst offensive rating of any potential playoff team.