Heat playoff picture: Breaking down Miami seeding scenarios in 2024 NBA bracket

The Eastern Conference playoff picture remains as murky as ever with just a handful of games left in the season.

The Celtics have been dominant, vanquishing 62 of their 79 opponents en route to the best record in basketball. Everything behind them is shrouded in mystery, however, with just four games separating second place from eighth.

Such unpredictability is part and parcel of Eastern Conference lore. The East has routinely seen teams jostle for position into the final few days of the regular season over the past few campaigns.

The Heat are no strangers to such circumstances. In fact, they found themselves in a similarly precarious position just one year ago, tethered to an eighth-place finish in the East after surviving the gauntlet that is the play-in.

Erik Spoelstra’s squad rallied itself in the ensuing rounds, trouncing the No. 1-seeded Bucks, No. 4-seeded Knicks, and No. 2-seeded Celtics to reach the NBA Finals.

Does a similar result loom on Miami’s horizons this postseason? Only time will tell. However, there are plenty of reasons to have faith that the Heat can make it out of the mire to compete with the East’s superpowers for conference superiority — even if they aren’t able to crack into the top-six.

Here’s a comprehensive look at seeding possibilities, potential postseason opponents, and the standings as Miami’s season nears its conclusion.

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Heat playoff scenarios 2024

With just four games remaining in their regular season, the Heat can finish no lower than eighth in the Eastern Conference standings.

Miami has a 26.7-percent chance of finishing eighth in the conference, per Basketball-Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report. By comparison, the Heat have a 39.9-percent chance at starting the postseason in seventh place, supplanting the currently seventh-seeded Sixers to do so.

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Miami is viewed as unlikely to leap much further than seventh in the Eastern Conference seeding, holding just a 7.8-percent chance of finishing sixth, a 4.4-percent chance of finishing fifth, a 1.6-percent chance of finishing fourth, and a 0.2-percent chance of finishing third in the conference.

At present, a spot in the Play-In tournament looks like the most likely outcome for Spoelstra’s side.

How Heat can clinch the No. 6 seed in the East

Miami sits 1.5 games back of the Pacers for the sixth seed. The Heat will need some serious help to displace any of the four sides sat directly above them in the standings (Pacers, Cavaliers, Knicks, Heat).

For Miami to have any chance at claiming the sixth seed in the East, it would need Indiana and Philadelphia to collapse. The Pacers would have to drop each of their final three games, as Indiana also holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Heat.

MORE: Where Heat rank among teams facing most pressure to make playoffs

Miami can leapfrog the 76ers, as it has a game in hand on Nick Nurse’s side, and sits just half a game back of Philadelphia with four to play. The two teams split their season series with one another, winning two games apiece. Consequently, a tie between the Heat and Sixers would be broken by win percentage against Eastern Conference teams.

Simply put, the Heat can nab the sixth seed if and only if they finish one full game ahead of the Pacers and 76ers.

Here’s a look at the scenarios Miami needs to occur to earn the sixth seed (and avoid the Play-In tournament entirely):

  • If the Heat go 4-0, the Pacers must go 1-2 or worse AND the Sixers must go 1-2 or worse
  • If the Heat go 3-1, the Pacers must go 0-3 AND the Sixers must go 1-2 or worse
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How Heat can clinch the No. 7 seed in the Play-In Tournament

The Heat can’t finish any lower than eighth. If they do stay in a Play-In Tournament position, it will need to win one game to clinch the seventh seed in the NBA playoffs.

Heat potential postseason opponents

Play-In Tournament

If the season ended today, the 7-seed 76ers would host the 8-seed Heat in the Play-In Tournament. The most likely outcomes involve a 76ers-Heat meeting in either Philadelphia or Miami.

NBA Playoffs

Outside of the 1-seed Celtics, nothing is set in the Eastern Conference standings.

If Miami stays in the Play-In Tournament, it would first play for an opportunity to face the East’s No. 2 seed. The Bucks, Cavaliers, Magic, and Knicks each have a realistic shot to finish second.

If the Heat lose their first Play-In Tournament game, they would have one last opportunity to play for the eighth seed and a first-round meeting with the Celtics.

MORE: Updated NBA Playoffs bracket and today’s clinching scenarios

Heat standings 2024

Seed Team Record Win pct. GB
4 Knicks 46-32 .590 16
5 Cavaliers 46-33 .582 16.5
6 Pacers 45-34 .570 17.5
7 76ers 44-35 .557 18.5
8 Heat 43-35 .551 19

Heat remaining schedule

Miami closes the season with a road matchup against the Hawks, followed by a three-game homestand.

Just two of Miami’s final four matchups involve a team in postseason contention — Atlanta is locked into a Play-In spot, while the Mavericks sit in the fifth spot in the Western Conference.

Date Opponent Time (ET) National TV
April 9 at Hawks 7:30 p.m.
April 10 vs. Mavericks 7:30 p.m. ESPN
April 12 vs. Raptors 8:00 p.m.
April 14 vs. Raptors 1:00 p.m.
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How does the NBA Play-In Tournament work?

The NBA Play-In Tournament will be held after the conclusion of the 2023-24 regular season and before the start of the first round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs. The teams that finish Nos. 1-6 in the standings of each conference will be guaranteed playoff spots. Teams Nos. 7-10 will enter the Play-In Tournament.

Each conference’s Nos. 7 and 8 teams will face off, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The loser will still have one more opportunity to reach the playoffs.

Each conference’s Nos. 9 and 10 teams will face off, with the winner advancing to play the loser of the No. 7-vs.-No. 8 game. The loser of the No. 9-vs.-No. 10 game will be eliminated from playoff contention.

The loser of the No. 7-vs.-No. 8 game and the winner of the No. 9-vs.-No. 10 game will then play against each other. The winner of that game will be the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. The loser will be eliminated from playoff contention.

Beyond the Play-In Tournament, the 2024 NBA Playoffs will follow the typical format, with full best-of-seven series through the NBA Finals. 

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