Can they upset a top seed in the first round?

The Miami Heat, despite a drastic slump and losing streak, are in great shape to secure a spot in the playoffs. Can they pull off the first round upset?

First round playoff upsets are rare in the NBA. In a seven-game series, the superior team wins out nine times out of 10. If a miracle works in the Miami Heat‘s favor, then, of course, anything can happen, but once the 2018 NBA Playoffs commence, can it actually happen?

Miami is currently ranked seventh in the East with a comfortable cushion of five games ahead of the ninth-place Detroit Pistons. For the foreseeable future, it looks like the Pistons won’t get any traction to make a playoff run, so hypothetically speaking, the Eastern Conference playoff field is nearly set. Now it’s only a question of what seed each team will end up with.

The Heat have the opportunity to make a run for the third seed since a span of only 5 games separates them. But if the prediction is the Pistons, who are exactly five games behind Miami, won’t make the playoffs for that reason, then it’s unrealistic to expect Miami to do the latter and make a jump to third. So let’s scratch that idea.

What could happen, in a more realistic and approachable tone, is Miami making a run at the fifth seed, which is currently reserved for the Washington Wizards. The Wizards coincidentally beat Miami Tuesday night in Washington. They lead Miami 2-1 in the tiebreaker with one game left.

Once again, this doesn’t bode well for Miami’s chances.

So the most likely scenario is playoff seeding in that 6-8 range, which begs the question, which matchup is better for Miami?

The top three teams in the East will eventually be the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards are both 1.5 games behind the Cavs, but history has gone to show us that when playoff implications are on the line, LeBron James will get it together.

So for the sake of this synopsis, the Cavs end up with the third seed and those three teams will be the top contenders in the East. Right off the bat, the odds are widely stacked against the Heat’s favor. But by how much?

The Toronto Raptors are leading the way for the first time in franchise history. Prior to their 2013-14 season, they had only made the playoffs five times, with only one of those surpassing the first round (only to lose in the second in a seven-game series shootout with the Philadelphia 76ers).

Since then, the Raptors have improved drastically year by year. They’ve made the playoffs in the past four years, even making it to the conference finals for the first time ever two years ago. They have been ousted by the Cavs for two consecutive years.

The Heat are tied 1-1 with the Raptors this season, with their last matchup actually being the final game of the season for Miami. This would be a straight-up massacre, since Miami wouldn’t have an answer for DeMar DeRozan. He has emerged as a future MVP candidate, guiding his team to new heights as their leader. In a seven-game series, Miami would be outnumbered offensively and would succumb to the Raptors’ 1-2 punch in DeRozan and Lowry.

Miami went seven games with Toronto three years ago, but ultimately ended up losing that final game on the road. This year would probably have a shorter outcome with the Raptors finishing it off in five games.

If the Heat clinched the seventh seed, they would, as the standings currently stand, face off against the Boston Celtics. As unbelievable as it might immediately sound, Miami does have a chance to upset this team.

They are 2-1 this season with their last two matchups being victorious. The last matchup was a one-point victory, but the game before that was a comeback run that gave the Celtics a tough test with Miami’s versatility and fast transition game. Home-court advantage would be extremely tough for Miami to overcome, but with Boston being a newly formed team, maybe the playoff pressure might be too much to handle for a team relying on two youngsters in their starting lineup.

While being one of the best teams in the whole league, they are vulnerable and that can be a troublesome attribute that might bite them come playoff time. Advantage, Miami.

The last potential first round matchup is the most beneficial to a possible upset. Of course, in reality, it could very well be the worst matchup, but there’s a valid reason behind the theory of an upset.

This Cavaliers team won the trade deadline, but in the process made the biggest change and adjustment out of every team and that, like the newly formed Celtics, could haunt them come playoff time. This is the first year that we can’t be 100 percent sure we will see a LeBron James NBA Finals. This year could be the year that breaks his Finals streak.

There’s just a lot of uncertainty regarding team chemistry and therefore, lack of playoff experience. The burden might be too much for one player to overcome. Despite being 0-2 in the regular season, that was a different team and now both Miami and Cavs have altered their lineups for better positioning.

That could work better for Miami in a seven-game series, especially with Dwyane Wade being back after playing half a season with the Cavs. He knows their system and more than anything knows how James plays, so his insight could be the spark initiating the upset.

The best option for Miami is to continue working their way up the ranks. The sixth seed isn’t that far away and a more balanced, poised effort can make the difference. After all, with a higher ranking, it might boost their momentum and fuel them for that possible hard sought first-round upset.

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