In an NBA world where there is championship contention and lottery hope, being stuck in the middle tends to be viewed as a hopeless limbo.
But there also can be benefits of the current level of parity that the league has only begun to see in recent years.
It, in fact, is what Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra admitted provided relief in the wake of Sunday’s disheartening loss to the Charlotte Hornets at the start of this four-game trip that continues Thursday night against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
“We had a devastating loss the other night at Charlotte, and then to keep it in perspective, you wake up the next morning and even with only being plus-five, we had the ninth-best record in the league,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat then improving to 29-23 with Tuesday night’s victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“That’s a head-scratcher to me. Usually you have the top teams, maybe a handful of middle teams and the rest were tanking. That’s not the case any more. I think that’s good.”
With the victory in Cleveland, the Heat moved within one game of the Cavaliers in the loss column for the East’s No. 5 seed, two games ahead of the Knicks, who are No. 7.
The No. 6 seed is the last in each conference with a direct ticket to the best-of-seven playoff opening round. Teams seeded Nos. 7-10 participate in the play-in bracket where one or two losses bring an end to the season.
It is the presence of the play-in, which began in 2021, that Spoelstra said has led to heightened competition at a time of season when teams previously would turn their focus to lottery odds.
“I think it’s been happening now for three years,” he said, before giving his team Wednesday off. “Two years since the play-in was put in, right? I think that’s the biggest driver in this. You just have far less teams tanking. Am I allowed to say that word? Come on, this happens in this league.
“But now you have a bunch of teams that probably weren’t necessarily thinking in either conference that they would have a chance of being in the play-in. At this point, you might as well go for it. The experience you get is just driving the competition level league-wide, and this is the way it should be.”
Heat forward Jimmy Butler, who has missed 15 games this season, has a different perspective on the standings being so tight heading into the trading deadline.
“I think it’s because a lot of guys have missed games, and you can’t get a rhythm of who’s going to be in the lineup, who’s going to be out,” he said. “You don’t know who’s playing night to night. We’re a prime example of that.
“I think that’s why teams are so up and down. But when guys get healthy and they get their guys back, I think it’s going to look a lot different.”
For now, it basically is a free-for-all, as Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell acknowledged in the wake of his potential game-tying 3-point attempt coming up short at Tuesday’s final buzzer.
“This seeding [push] is crazy,” he said. “You could win four in a row and be second. You can lose four in a row and be 10. So understanding that every game counts, but also in the same token, not putting that pressure on yourself every night, because it can wear on you as the year goes on.”
Source: Berkshire mont
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