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Heat need win to guarantee Wade’s playoff push will continue

April 7, 2019
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Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, left, talks with Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in Miami. The Celtics won 112-102. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, left, talks with Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in Miami. The Celtics won 112-102. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

A look at where things stand in the NBA playoff picture, with four days remaining in the regular season:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Miami controls its destiny, which sounds good.

Miami could also be eliminated on Sunday as well.

And Dwyane Wade’s “One Last Dance” might end without a playoff berth.

The Heat have not dropped four straight games at any point this season. It would be in their best interest for that statement to remain accurate on Sunday, when Miami — losers of three straight — gets the rare noon tip-off at Toronto. If the Heat win, they remain alive regardless of other outcomes. If they lose, it might be over.

In fact, the remaining three spots in the Eastern Conference field could be claimed on Sunday. If Miami loses, and Brooklyn wins, and Detroit wins, the field will be set. If Miami wins, then the race is guaranteed to extend to at least Tuesday. And if the Heat go 3-0 in the next four days — after the game at Toronto, they host Philadelphia on Tuesday and visit Brooklyn on Wednesday — they’re in the playoffs.

“You want to win in the playoffs, you have to learn how to win pressure games and games with expectation and consequences during the regular season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This can’t feel any more like the playoffs right now. Our backs are fully against the wall. I just think this is an awesome experience for our team. You have to find a way to embrace this and rise to the challenge.”

Philadelphia cut its magic number for clinching the No. 3 spot to one by defeating Chicago on Saturday. In the only other game on the NBA schedule — intentionally made light by the schedule-makers because of the NCAA Final Four going on — Brooklyn went up one spot to sixth, passing Orlando, by holding off Milwaukee on Saturday. The Bucks rested Giannis Antetokounmpo in that one because of a calf issue.

But all was not lost for the Magic.

Orlando can clinch its first playoff berth since 2012 on Sunday; the Magic would get in if they win at Boston, or if Miami and Charlotte both lose. If the Magic don’t beat the Celtics, then Boston would secure a top-four spot and home-court for the first round.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Oracle Arena will play host to more games. Probably a lot more games, to be honest, unless the Golden State Warriors get stunned in the early rounds of these playoffs.

But on Sunday night, the Warriors will play a regular-season game there for the 1,936th, and last, time.

And they could close that chapter at their Oakland home in style: A win over the Los Angeles Clippers in the home regular-season finale on Sunday would secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference race for the two-time defending NBA champions, who are moving to the brand-new Chase Center in San Francisco starting next season.

“We’ve got one more before we can seal up the No. 1 seed and take care of that goal,” Warriors star Stephen Curry said. “These next three games are just about finishing the right way. I’m happy with where we are as a team, taking care of our business, and we’ll figure out who we’re going to play next weekend and we’ll go from there.”

Warriors-Clippers could be the West’s headline game Sunday night, though many others will have a say in the seeding races.

Denver will look to sweep a home-and-home against the Trail Blazers when the teams meet in Portland. But the Nuggets are sitting Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Jamal Murray to rest, which certainly helps out the Blazers.

Houston will be a very big favorite over Phoenix, and the Rockets could still get to No. 2 in the West — the spot currently held by Denver, which cannot slip past No. 3. Portland would be assured of the No. 4 spot with a 3-0 finish, while Utah, San Antonio and Oklahoma City also have games that matter seeding-wise Sunday.

SUNDAY’S GAMES

— Miami at Toronto: Toronto is the No. 2 seed in the East and still could be No. 2 in the NBA. Miami has almost no more room for error.

— San Antonio at Cleveland: This is a game that the Spurs should win, unless for some reason they want Golden State in the first round.

— Oklahoma City at Minnesota: See above. Unless the Thunder want to see Golden State in the first round, they likely need to win this one.

— Charlotte at Detroit: Pistons aren’t as desperate as the Hornets, who need a 3-0 finish and help to get in. Detroit can still get No. 6 seed.

— Brooklyn at Indiana: Nets went to 6th on Saturday, and will finish there if they win out. Pacers know they’re likely going to be the 5 seed.

— Phoenix at Houston: Rockets can still get to No. 2 seed if things break their way. The Suns have lost 239 games in the last four years.

— Orlando at Boston: Magic will clinch their first playoff spot since 2012 with a win. Celtics will wrap up home-court for Round 1 with a win.

— L.A. Clippers at Golden State: Warriors coach Steve Kerr has won at least 55 games in all five of his seasons. L.A. playing for 6th, 7th or 8th.

— Denver at Portland: The resting-up Nuggets still can finish with No. 2 seed. Blazers may get to 3rd seed, trying to hold off Jazz for 4th.

— Utah at L.A. Lakers: The Jazz are 31-10 in their last 41 games, yet still might not get home-court for Round 1. Extremely dangerous team.

Games with no playoff implications: Dallas at Memphis, Atlanta at Milwaukee, Washington at New York, New Orleans at Sacramento.

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CURRENT BRACKET

First-round matchups if the season ended Saturday ...

East: 1-Milwaukee vs. 8-Detroit, 2-Toronto vs. 7-Orlando, 3-Philadelphia vs. 6-Brooklyn, 4-Boston vs. 5-Indiana.

West: 1-Golden State vs. 8-San Antonio, 2-Denver vs. 7-Oklahoma City, 3-Houston vs. 6-L.A. Clippers, 4-Portland vs. 5-Utah.

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NOTE OF THE DAY

Nine teams had a 10-game (or longer) winning streak last season. This season, only Golden State has. Utah can get there by winning out.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We’re not satisfied.” — Denver coach Michael Malone, after the Nuggets clinched home-court edge for their first playoff series since 2013.

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