The Heat clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs on Tuesday with a 129-121 road win over the Boston Celtics.
Here's a look at the latest Eastern Conference standings with four-plus days of regular-season basketball remaining following Miami's victory. The top six finishers will be guaranteed playoff berths, and the Nos. 7-10 teams will enter a play-in tournament to decide the final two seeds.
1. Philadelphia 76ers: 47-22
2. Brooklyn Nets: 45-24
3. Milwaukee Bucks: 43-25
4. New York Knicks: 38-30
5. Atlanta Hawks: 38-31
6. Miami Heat: 38-31
7. Boston Celtics: 35-34
8. Charlotte Hornets: 33-36
9. Indiana Pacers: 33-36
10. Washington Wizards: 32-37
11. Chicago Bulls: 29-40
12. Toronto Raptors: 27-42
13. Orlando Magic: 21-47
14. Cleveland Cavaliers: 21-48
15. Detroit Pistons: 20-50
Expectations were high in Miami heading into the 2020-21 campaign after the team returned the key group that led them all the way to the NBA Finals, where they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers. Bam Adebayo was there to hold things down from the 5, which helped as star Jimmy Butler missed 10 games in January to work through the league's health and safety protocols.
At the trade deadline, they picked up extra pieces that helped push them over the edge in a tight Eastern Conference, where several teams were hovering around the .500 mark and trading playoff seeds back and forth even as late as the middle of April.
Trevor Ariza came to town from Portland to share time with Nemanja Bjelica and Andre Iguodala in the front court, an area Jimmy Butler was dominating once he returned from his lengthy absence. Victor Oladipo found a home in Miami, joining the team from the Houston Rockets and pushing the more-than-capable Goran Dragic to the bench. However, he's been limited to just four games with Miami thus far due to a right knee injury.
The original pieces of the championship-contending Heat still starred throughout the 2020-21 campaign: Entering Tuesday, Butler averaged 21.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game, and Adebayo was good for 18.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists with 1.0 blocks. Tyler Herro, who broke out in the postseason last year, embraced a bench role and averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Adebayo earned an All-Star selection, though Butler was snubbed, and in his return from the break, he showed that he deserved to be in Atlanta.
Ira Winderman @IraHeatBeat
Jimmy Butler in 3 games since All-Star break: Vs. Magic: 27 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals. Vs. Bulls: 28 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 4 steals. Vs. Magic: 29 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 steals. All in wins...and NBA decides no Players of Week for shortened week.
His late-season surge, combined with the Heat's trade-deadline acquisitions, put them in position to make it to the postseason, but that was only the first step.
To get back to the NBA Finals in consecutive years for the first time since their four-year run from 2010-14, the Heat will have to bring the same energy into a bracket that also includes the Philadelphia 76ers, super-team Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks at the top.