There’s no selection show in the NBA.
The brackets are set not by evaluation and debate, but by the cold, hard results of each team’s 82 contests. And, with just over a week left in the regular season, the Heat’s bracket could hardly be working out better.
Miami’s most daunting opponent on its path to the Eastern Conference finals?
Barring a Boston collapse – which appears less likely with Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledging that he would prefer to avoid the Heat – Miami’s opponent Tuesday night, Milwaukee, will also be its first-round opponent as the No. 8 seed.
The Bucks, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2001, when Ray Allen was their leading scorer, would be among the most overwhelming underdogs in NBA history.
And the second round?
The Heat would play the winner between the No. 4 and 5 seeds. Currently, the teams holding those spots are the Brooklyn Nets, three-time blowout losers to the Heat this season; and the Chicago Bulls, who have beaten the Heat two of three times but struggle for offense without practice-but-never-play guard Derrick Rose.
Chicago leads the Atlanta Hawks by just one game for the fifth seed, though it does hold the tiebreaker.
Ideally, for the Heat’s sake, the Bulls would slip behind the Hawks. That would put the four East squads whose teams and crowds present the most problems for Miami – Knicks, Pacers, Bulls and Celtics – on the other side of the bracket, beating on each other.
But even if they aren’t, this is setting up as a rather easy road.
What would need to happen for any of the current three on the Heat’s side to present a challenge?
• 1. Milwaukee: The Bucks have battled the Heat during the Big 3 era, creating extra possessions with their offensive rebounding and then relying on Brandon Jennings to splash jumpers over the top.
Different Bucks – John Henson, Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova – have made a dent inside in the three meetings this season, but the last encounter was probably indicative of what a postseason series would be. The Heat’s star power (with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade combining for 68 points) was simply too much.
Monta Ellis isn’t quite on Wade’s level, but with this series looming, it is understandable why the Heat would want him rested.
• 2. Brooklyn: Provided that Reggie Evans doesn’t pop off about the Heat’s “tainted” title again, and thus infuriate James, you’d figure the Nets would manage more resistance than in the three meetings this season, which they lost by a combined 63 points.
Deron Williams is thinner and healthier than in any of those games, all of which predated the All-Star break. Still, Gerald Wallace has lost his confidence, and the Nets’ lack of collective resolve was evident when they coughed up a huge lead at home against a depleted Bulls squad. A serious threat? Doesn’t appear so.
• 3. Chicago: Reaching the second round would buy Rose two more weeks to recover, and might even convince him it was worth the trouble. How much could he help at that stage? That’s hard to say.
What’s without question is that Tom Thibodeau teams know how to make it difficult on opponents, even when undermanned. They would squeeze the corners, force Miami to practice patience and probably steal a game or two with some sort of fluky Nate Robinson flurry.
Could they squeeze out 90 points in enough games to knock out Miami? Knock it off.