Heat gets help Thursday night: Exploring Miami’s chances of more upward mobility in East

The Nets and Knicks did their part on Thursday night, losing winnable games, with the Nets’ blown lead and defeat against Cleveland catapulting Miami to the sixth seed in the East.

Now the Heat must do its part by taking care of business in critical games Saturday at home against Brooklyn (8 p.m., Bally Sports Sun), and next Wednesday at the Knicks.

No NBA team in modern history has experienced a more profound exodus of elite talent over a calendar year than the Brooklyn Nets, who traded away James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving without a certified All-Star in return.

And now the Heat must stretch the Nets’ overall losing streak to six to avoid falling back to the seventh seed on Saturday night.

Sixth-seeded Miami (40-34) enters Saturday’s game one-half game ahead of seventh-seeded Brooklyn (39-34). The Nets already have clinched the tiebreaker with Miami; Brooklyn won the two previous meetings this season and Saturday will be their final matchup.

The Nets’ edge in the tiebreaker, coupled with the fact that the Nets have the easier remaining schedule, makes a win vital if the Heat hopes to finish ahead of Brooklyn.

After Saturday, the Heat’s remaining games are Tuesday at Toronto, Wednesday at the Knicks, and April 1 at home against Dallas, followed by a three-game road trip to Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington, before the April 9 finale at home against Orlando. So after Brooklyn, Miami plays only two of its last seven at home.

The Nets, conversely, have a home-heavy schedule after playing at the Heat on Saturday and at the Magic on Sunday. Brooklyn closes with six of its final seven games at home: a four-game homestand against Houston, Atlanta, Utah and Minnesota, followed by a road game at Detroit, and then home games against Atlanta and Philadelphia.

The Nets went 7-7 in their first 14 games after trading Durant to Phoenix, but have lost five in a row since.

The Heat, meanwhile, has won four of five.

The Heat also has an increasing chance to overtake the fifth-seeded New York Knicks, who lead the Heat by 1.5 games after losing to Orlando on Thursday.

Any scenario of the Heat overtaking New York very likely involves Miami winning at Madison Square Garden next Wednesday. That would even the season series at 2-2 and would essentially give Miami the tiebreaker if the teams finish tied. That’s because the team winning its division wins the next tiebreaker if the two teams split their season series; the Heat will likely be a division winner, and the Knicks won’t be.

The Knicks host Houston on Monday before the Heat visits on Wednesday. The Knicks then close with games at Cleveland, home against Washington, at Indiana, at New Orleans and home against Indiana.

Staying ahead of the Nets -- or hopscotching the Knicks -- would mean avoiding the play-in round, a fate that befalls teams that finish seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th in each conference.

Regardless, Miami seems unlikely to fall below seventh in the conference unless the team unravels down the stretch.

Miami leads the No. 8 Hawks by 3.5 games. Atlanta hosts Indiana and Memphis this weekend. The seventh seed hosts the eighth seed in the play-in.

“Biggest thing to stay out of the play-in is to win,” Bam Adebayo said. “If we can keep stacking up these wins, we’ll be out of the play-in.”


The Heat is 16th in offensive rating since the All Star break, averaging 115 points per 100 possessions, compared with 26th (111.1 per 100) before the All-Star break.

“The big thing is they’re going to put a lot of pressure on you,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after the Heat’s 127-120 win against New York on Wednesday. “Jimmy [Butler] and Kyle [Lowry] spread you out, and you got [Tyler] Herro and [Caleb] Martin cutting, and Bam [Adebayo] is going to make you pay with his rebounding, and then he can initiate as well.”

The Heat is 15th in the league in three-point shooting percentage since the All Star break at 36.9, compared with 28th (33.4) before the All Star break.

“We’re playing with a little more tempo,” Kyle Lowry said. “It’s a good vibe.”

▪ Gabe Vincent is shooting 44.4 percent (12 for 27) on threes since Lowry’s return, and Spoelstra has stuck with Vincent in the starting lineup.

“Gabe has the emotional and mental stability to play with either lineup and he gets it, what each lineup needs, which is a little bit different,” Erik Spoelstra said. “But when he is assertive, we’re a better basketball team. And then all the other things that maybe the average fan might not notice, but his versatility and toughness defensively is really helpful.

“He can guard three positions seamlessly and his leadership qualities and his voice is one of the more important ones in our locker room. Guys really respect him.”

Lowry, who turns 37 on Saturday, is 11 for 19 on threes since returning. So between Vincent and Lowry, that’s 23 for 46 (50 percent) on threes since Lowry’s return.

▪ Though Kevin Love is allowing the players he’s guarding to shoot 54.3 percent since joining the Heat (compared with 50.1 that those players shoot overall), the Heat likes how he has picked up the team’s defensive system.

“He does the scheme very well,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a smart player. And he has a lot of experience. He’s very strong for somebody his size.”

▪ Cody Zeller (nasal fracture) remains out; he participated in half of practice Friday and Spoelstra said he’s getting closer. Lowry and Caleb Martin were again listed as questionable with knee soreness, but they have consistently played after having that injury designation.

Nikola Jovic did not yet join the Heat’s G-League team in South Dakota for its final few games because of back spasms. Orlando Robinson and Jamal Cain are with the Heat’s G-League team.