Tonight, the last night of the NBA’s regular season, will settle the Eastern Conference’s seventh and eighth playoff seeds, the last two unsettled spots in the postseason. The Miami Heat, currently sitting in ninth thanks to tiebreakers, can claim one of those spots, technically, but almost certainly won’t. That sucks.
Here’s how the board is laid out: The Heat have to win a home game against the Washington Wizards, who are locked into the fourth seed and have nothing to play for, and they need either the Indiana Pacers or the Chicago Bulls to lose at home. The first part of that should be no problem; the Wizards, unless they are very stupid (a legit possibility I don’t want to think about), will be happy to let the Heat roll over a lineup of hapless randos like Daniel Ochefu and Sheldon McClellan.
In the abstract, the second part, either the Pacers or the Bulls losing on a given night, shouldn’t be all that unlikely: Both of those teams are pretty butt. They lose all the time. Unfortunately for the Heat, those teams are getting tonight’s games pretty much gift-wrapped. The Pacers are hosting the Atlanta Hawks, who are locked into fifth and, like the Wizards, have nothing to play for; the Bulls are hosting the atrocious Brooklyn Nets, the NBA’s worst team by a mile, who actually beat the Bulls a few days ago but inexplicably have decided to give their least-terrible players tonight off to rest up in preparation for, uh, like 190 more nights off in a row.
This is a bad break for the Heat, of course, but it’s also crummy news for anybody who’d hoped that the first round of the playoffs might feature more than the bare minimum of fun. The Bulls and Pacers are two of the NBA’s most miserable squads: misshapen, dysfunctional heaps anchored in both cases by dead-eyed short-timers all but audibly counting the minutes until summer vacation.
The Bulls in particular are listless and bad and deathly boring to watch whenever their best players—the ones who’ll see their minutes go up in the playoffs—are on the floor. A loss tonight could be enough to kick off a deeply necessary and years-overdue total rebuild; a win will, in all likelihood, stave it off for at least another hateful season. The very last thing anybody needs is (let’s be real) five more games of these depressed bozos ignoring each other and half-jogging from end to end; we’re probably getting another year of this shit.
The Pacers fare a little better by comparison, in that any random 30-second clip of any randomly selected one of their games is a slightly less than mortal lock to make you hate the entire sport. But still, they’re awful. No possible five-man combination of Pacers players makes any sense as a basketball team or demonstrates the least on-court chemistry or does not include at least one embarrassed, aging mercenary. Their roster is like somebody held 2012 upside down, gave it one good, hard shake, and slapped Indiana jerseys on whatever hit the floor first.
(Who cares, but: A dignified first-round exit wouldn’t even be a cause for much optimism for Pacers fans. Paul George has done everything short of wearing a Lakers uniform during games to broadcast his eagerness to leave Indianapolis for Los Angeles when he reaches free-agency after next season, and his almost-certain departure almost certainly will punt the team to the bottom of the NBA. Unless they shock the world and win a championship in the meantime! That will not happen.)
The Heat, by contrast, are fun! They’ve faltered a bit lately but have been one of the East’s feistiest teams in the second half of the season. When Goran Dragic is cooking in the pick-and-roll game, Hassan Whiteside is wrecking shit around the hoop at both ends, and spunky doofuses like Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, and Johnsons Tyler and (especially) James are running and dunking and shooting threes, they convincingly resemble the kind of loose, athletic, purposeful team—the kind anchored by veterans who give a shit and, in Erik Spoelstra, a very good coach whose players do not despise him—that could throw a legit scare into the top-seeded Boston Celtics.
And that’s all leaving aside that, if the Heat made the playoffs, they could get back bonkers shot-making goober Dion Waiters, the greatest basketball player who ever lived in his own mind and, for seconds at a time interspersed between hours and days and weeks of incompetence, in the real world too. He’s been out with a sprained left ankle the past few weeks, but could be just a couple days away from returning—if only the Heat’s season can last that long. Playoff Dion Waiters is a real possibility, which Regular Season Jeff Teague probably will deny us.
What I am saying here is that this is a damn tragedy, and—not that anybody needed one—another reason to hate the Bulls and Pacers. Go Nets.