Opinion: Heat sizzling in NBA restart, will make playoff path for teams in East difficult

The Miami Heat are one of those teams no one in the Eastern Conference wants to play in the postseason.

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens says, "Beating them four times in seven games is going to be exceptionally difficult."

Stevens probably won’t have to worry about that unless the Heat drop from the fourth seed to the sixth seed or there are some major upsets in the Eastern Conference. Right now, the two teams wouldn’t meet until the conference finals and that means Milwaukee and Toronto would have to lose in the first or second round.

But Stevens’ overall point remains. The Heat will be a tough out, and while it might be difficult to beat the Heat four times in seven games, it’s also fair to ask if the Heat can beat a team four times in a series.

They definitely have the talent and the coaching, and that played out Tuesday night as the Heat defeated the Celtics 112-106 without All-Star Jimmy Butler (sore right ankle).

With two victories in three games – the loss was a 107-103 close call to Toronto – Miami is producing strong offensive numbers, especially on three-pointers, and playing capable defense.

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Heat guard Duncan Robinson controls the ball against Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)

They were always going to be a dangerous but unpredictable playoff team, even before COVID-19 forced the suspension of the season, because Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has his teams ready to play. A combination of Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn, Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Derrick Jones Jr., Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, Meyers Leonard and a late-season edition of Andre Iguodala give the Heat depth, experience, quality and emerging young players.

Butler is a candidate to make one of the league’s all-NBA teams; Adebayo, already a quality defender and improving offensively, should finish in the top five for Most Improved and same for Nunn in rookie of the year; Dragic is a Sixth Man candidate and Herro could make one of the all-rookie teams with Nunn. Robinson is fourth in the league with 3.7 three-pointers made per game, tied for second in total threes made and fourth in three-point percentage.

And keep in mind, Heat president Pat Riley not only plans for the present but for the future, too, and the Heat are a team that should have salary cap room to spend on big-name free agents in 2021. Riley wants one more title.But what does it mean for the Heat this postseason? Everything is a small sample size in restart games but the Heat are playing almost as well as any team.

They are 1½ games behind Boston for the third seed and a game ahead of Indiana for the fourth seed. It will be difficult to catch Boston, and the way the Pacers (3-0 in the restart) are playing, the Heat could drop to the fifth seed. Of course, there is no home-court advantage so the difference between being the fourth and fifth seed is even less meaningful.

The Heat fall into the same category as Denver, Utah, Houston, Indiana, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City – teams that are not favorites but are capable of an upset or two. And capable of losing in the first round.

Follow NBA columnist Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt

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