Miami’s 106-92 win in South Beach over Cleveland Monday night was likely the team’s most important of the season. Not only did the team – which happens to have a losing record at American Airlines Arena for the first time in eight years, carrying the same number of home losses as the last three regular seasons combined – sweep its two-game regular season series against the Cavaliers in the House That LeBron Once Played In, they also jumped into the playoffs. For a team that is 8-6 since losing leading-scorer Chris Bosh for the rest of the season, the win felt as cauterized as it did cathartic.
“Our guys wanted it very badly tonight,” Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We understand what the playoff race is right now. Guys were screaming at each other, lot of passion in this game and it was much-needed.”
Dwayne Wade continued his turning-back-the-clock string of play with another showcase: 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting, including 66.7 percent shooting on contested shots and five steals. It was the fifth consecutive game that Wade has posted a game high in scoring.
Caveats can be found in every game. Kevin Love sitting out Monday in addition to Cleveland playing on the second night of a back-to-back against a team that hadn’t played since Friday is certainly notable. The Cavaliers sitting in the Eastern Conference driver’s seat on the tail end of a number of marquee victory is notable, too. David Blatt’s group, which ranks sixth in league scoring, was held to a season-low 38 points in the first half – this is also notable. Miami etching its first double-digit victory in two weeks after having blown three 15-point leads this season is notable.
The Heat’s pace factor with Goran Dragic on court is 98.2. Before he joined the team? An NBA-low 91.9. Enter the Dragon.
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) March 17, 2015
Since Goran Dragic came over from Phoenix, Miami’s tempo has skyrocketed and the team’s shot chart evokes a friendlier reception from the South Beach zealotry.
Spoelstra’s team still sits in the cellar of the league’s rebounding rankings – 30th for the third consecutive season – but they’re averaging just over 42 per game over the last week and have won the rebounding edge in two of those three games. Wade calling out Hassan Whiteside for maturity issues manifesting as anger wasn’t simply because the 7-footer shows potential, it’s because he’s the linchpin of the defense and cleans the glass when his teammates ostensibly cannot.
According to ESPN’s latest Basketball Power Index rankings, which were calculated prior to Monday’s games, Miami had just a 40.6 percent chance of making the playoffs; Hollinger’s Playoff Odds has Miami at 48.3 percent probability and Sports Club Stats has them at 42.6 percent probability. The race is tight: Indiana, Miami, Boston, Charlotte and Brooklyn are chasing the final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and Charlotte, which currently sits No. 10, is just a half-game out of the playoffs.
Indiana holds a tiebreaker lead on Miami, which is why they currently sit in the seventh spot. As the data suggests, the Pacers are the favorite of the five teams to make the postseason, while the margins are slim between Miami, Boston and Charlotte.
Boston and Miami hold the exact same record, but play completely different brands of basketball.
With just less than a month left in the regular season, 56 percent of Miami’s remaining games are against postseason-bound teams, as it currently stands. The race almost always boils down to tight-fisted prayer from a number of teams, even with the regular season being a lengthy and taxing 82 games. In all sports, the therapeutic effects of winning are innumerable, but they always diminish. Miami’s win Monday night was critical in the team’s final sprint toward the postseason, but there are plenty of other franchises on their heels.