Miami Heat Gearing Up For Final Stretch of the Season

Allen LevinCorrespondent IIMarch 19, 2009

As the Miami Heat prepare for their final 15 games of the regular season, it's time to start thinking about the postseason. Where will they be seeded? How far will they go? Do they have what it takes to make a deep run?

The current standings have the Heat as the Eastern Conference's fifth seed at 36-31 and slated for a first round matchup against the fourth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.

Miami has held down the fifth seed for nearly the entire year while breathing down the throats of the Hawks, getting as close as a half-game back and as far as four games back.

But, with Miami's recent two-game losing streak, they have fallen three-and-a-half games back from their division rivals and have let the 76ers get dangerously close to them in the standings, as Philadelphia is only one-and-a-half games behind.

While it will be tough for Miami to attain that coveted fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round, it is certainly not impossible.

The Heat square off with the Hawks one final time in their second-to-last game of the 2008-09 campaign.

But, it will not be an easy road for Miami, as they will face seven playoff-bound teams, including the division-leading Orlando Magic and the defending champion Boston Celtics.

Atlanta's schedule isn't too kind to them either, as they have to face Dallas, Cleveland, San Antonio, Boston, Los Angeles, and Orlando.

The Hawks will really have to play their best basketball in order to hold onto their fourth seed. However, they are currently on a six-game winning streak and don't show any signs of slowing down.

Miami is coming off an overtime loss yesterday to the Celtics, in which they were without their leading scorer, Dwyane Wade.

Wade decided to sit out the game to rest his sore hip, which is probably a good idea considering Miami will have to be flawless in their final stretch of the season in order to pass Atlanta.

The Heat can take advantage of a soft spot in their schedule, though, with their next six games coming against teams with sub-.500 records.

If the Heat want to attain the fourth seed, they are really going to have to step up their defensive presence, though. Miami has given up over 100 points in seven of their last 10 games, which will not cut it come playoff time.

Although they have had defensive lapses lately, their offense has simply been on fire. In the month of March, the Heat have only had one game where they haven't scored over 100 points. Everyone from Jermaine O'Neal to Mario Chalmers to Daequan Cook has been putting up points.

And then their has been the outstanding, MVP-caliber play of All-Star Dwyane Wade. He has been torching the league recently, averaging 35.7 points per game since the All-Star Break, including two 50-point performances. The Heat will need his continued dominance to have a chance at the fourth seed.

I think the Heat have a good shot at passing Atlanta and achieving the fourth seed. They will have to play good on the road and step up their defense, however, to make it and go farther than the first round.

And with Atlanta's schedule being one of the toughest in the NBA, the Heat will have an even better chance. It is time for the Heat and Wade to capitalize on this opportunity and get that much-needed home court in the first round.

The Heat's playoff push will continue when they square off against Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets in New Jersey on Friday.