Miami Heat: Most favorable first-round matchups in 2022 NBA Playoffs, ranked
After being swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs last year, the Miami Heat were at one point running through the Eastern Conference this season, on track to finish with the number one seed.
Injuries have been a factor for Miami since 2021-22 tipped off, but coach Erik Spoelstra has implemented an admirable system that has succeeded despite persistent health woes. The adversity and hardships the Heat have encountered throughout their campaign did not end there, as they suffered four successive losses a few weeks back against subpar squads, culminating in the infamous on-court spat between Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler.
Miami has won three in a row since then, proving its hard-edged culture can withstand even the most pointed bouts of interpersonal drama and disagreement—a dynamic the Heat may need to rely on in the rough-and-tumble Eastern Conference playoffs.
Here are Miami’s three most favorable first-round matchups, ranked.
Miami Heat 2022 NBA Playoffs — Favorable First-Round Matchups
3. Brooklyn Nets
Even if the Heat finish first or second in the East, it could be inevitable for them to challenge the Brooklyn Nets as early as the first round. The Nets do have their own struggles with chemistry and defensive principles, but one cannot discount a squad led by the superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. These two individuals can propel the Nets to a massive upset just due to their sheer talent and leadership traits.
The deficiencies of the Nets could still be rectified before the regular season wraps up, and their ceiling could reach as high as hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June. Durant and Irving will be the two best players in a series with the Heat, so the defensive prowess of guys like Butler, Bam Adebayo and P.J. Tucker must be maximized to try and contain two of the most skilled offensive players ever.
2. Atlanta Hawks
It’s been a forgettable regular season for the Atlanta Hawks after reaching the Conference Finals last year, but there’s no doubting Trae Young’s ability as a playoff performer. That was a question mark as recently as this time last year, before Young had ever played on basketball’s biggest stage. He’s since proven his bonafides as a playoff performer, leading Atlanta past the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers last spring.
It is not only Young who would create headaches for Spoelstra and the Heat. Veterans like Kevin Huerter, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Clint Capela have proven capable of enhancing their production when the pressure intensifies. Nate McMillan’s defense still has a plethora of issues to address, but with the Hawks currently at second in offensive rating, they will be able to pose an enormous challenge in a seven-game series against any opponent.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Even if the Cleveland Cavaliers arguably shocked the NBA world this season by reaching the play-in tournament, this would be an easier matchup for Miami because of the injuries incurred by their top players. Ricky Rubio and Collin Sexton are out of the season, while Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley are still recovering in time for the stretch run.
There are less than two weeks remaining, but the Cavaliers still do not know which players would be available in a play-in game that could send them home. As they sit in seventh place right now, they’ll likely have an edge of hosting two games in the play-in tournament should they lose the first one, but the luxury of home-court advantage won’t compensate for Allen and Mobley playing at less than 100 percent. Darius Garland is a serious candidate for the Most Improved Player award, but Cleveland would be in major trouble against Miami if he’s the only one playing at the level reserved for stars.