With their convincing win against the Indiana Pacers Friday night, the Miami Heat regained possession of the top seed and home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, the No. 1 seed is all but wrapped up.
"It's all about the process," James said in the postgame television interview. "It doesn't matter about seeding."
James added that playing well is more important than the team's record. That veteran thought process—the focus on the means and not necessarily the end—has set the Heat apart from the Pacers.
Go for No. 1 seed? LeBron: "It's more important to play the right way. The No. 1 seed doesn't guarantee you win a playoff series."— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) April 12, 2014
The Pacers (54-26) have two games left, and the Heat (54-25) have three remaining. To close the regular season, Indiana hosts the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday and then travel to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
Miami travels to play the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday for the end of its back-to-back games. On Monday, the team plays the Wizards in Washington and wraps things up Wednesday by hosting the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Pacers have a better conference record than the Heat, so if both teams have 56 wins, the tiebreaker goes to Indiana. Basically, the Heat have to have one more win than the Pacers.
If Indiana wins out, Miami has to win out to maintain home-court advantage. Should the Pacers drop one, Miami can afford to do so too.
Looking at the remaining slate for both teams, Indiana has the toughest matchup against the Thunder. However Oklahoma City, one of the best teams in the NBA, doesn't have much to play for.
The Thunder have a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers for the second seed in the West, and the San Antonio Spurs have already clinched home court. The Thunder could, theoretically, take this game off as opposed to battling against a physical Pacers team just before the start of the playoffs.
Still, with the way Indiana is playing, Oklahoma City is light-years ahead of them right now. As long as Kevin Durant is using both of his arms, even a partially engaged Thunder team would likely beat the Pacers.
Miami, on the other hand, faces a playoff team in the Wizards that has more to play for than any other of the teams' remaining opponents. Depending on how these last few games go, Washington can slide anywhere from No. 5 to No. 7 in the East.
A young Wizards team will surely be going after a win against Miami, not only for seeding purposes but also to gain confidence heading into the postseason.
Looking at it from an odds perspective, the Pacers will be favored in one of their two games. Miami will be favored in all three. Indiana plays one of the best teams in the NBA, while the Heat play two teams that are currently playing some of the worst basketball in the league and one Eastern Conference playoff team (which is not viewed the same as a Western Conference playoff team).
Realistically, if Indiana drops the game against the Thunder, Miami can afford to lose the end of its back-to-back games against the Hawks or to an upstart Wizards team (but not both). That gives the Heat some room for error. A half-game ahead of the Pacers and playing with confidence, I give the edge to Miami to take home-court advantage.