3 Lingering questions following the Heat's heartbreaking loss to the Pacers

The Miami Heat need a miracle to avoid the play-in tournament. So how should they approach the final four games of the season?
Apr 7, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33)  shoots the ball
Apr 7, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) shoots the ball / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After a brutal first half on both sides and trailing by as much as 22, the Miami Heat's furious comeback in the fourth quarter fell short, falling to the Indiana Pacers 117-115 Sunday afternoon at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Miami needed this game to earn the tiebreaker over the Indiana Pacers and create some breathing room from the Philadelphia 76ers. Now with another loss coupled with the 76ers outlasting the Spurs in double overtime, the Heat will drop to eighth place and inch even closer to play in territory. Here are three questions that need to be answered regarding the Heat's seeding.

1. Can the Heat still escape the play in?

The Heat still have a shot to escape the play-in, but will need to be perfect in the final week of the season and also need outside help from other teams.

With the Pacers now having the tiebreaker over the Heat, their final three opponents are the Toronto Raptors, the reeling Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks. Unless a grand collapse happens, the chances of the Heat catching up to the Pacers have basically been sealed shut after Sunday night's defeat.

The teams that Heat Nation should be hoping to lose are the Orlando Magic and the Cleveland Cavaliers since Miami won the season series against both teams. The Magic have a pretty tough schedule, with the Rockets, Bucks, 76ers and Bucks again to close out the season. For the Cavaliers, the Heat now have to rely on their struggles to continue against the Grizzlies, Pacers and Hornets.

Another scenario in which the Heat can pass up another Eastern Conference team is if the New York Knicks lose out and the Heat win their final four. The opponents for the Knicks are the Bulls twice, the Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets.

As for the 76ers who are now ahead of the Heat, they finish the season with a fairly easy schedule as they face only one team above .500 in the Orlando Magic, with their other two opponents being the Detroit Pistons and the Brooklyn Nets. There's a decent chance the 76ers can finish the season with three straight wins (giving them 47 total), which would put Miami in a spot where they need to win out in order to tally 47 wins, trigger the tie-breaker and secure a home play-in game.

The odds are slim for the Heat to catch up to certain teams, but late-season collapses have happened before. Had they won on Sunday, the Heat would have been in control of their own ability to clinch the sixth seed. Instead, now they need help from other teams -- perhaps a miracle.

2. What seed are the Heat likely to get?

The Heat can't afford to lose any more games and expect to avoid the play-in. If Miami can get by the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks -- two teams who beat Miami the last time they met -- the Heat are set up with two games at home against the Toronto Raptors who just snapped a 15-game losing streak against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Sweeping the next four can't be ruled out but, even if they do so, the Heat's latest stumble makes it difficult to avoid the play-in tournament. Fortunately, they can't drop much further since they are still six games up on the no. 9 Chicago Bulls.

Miami will likely finish with the seventh or eighth seed and set themselves up with another showdown against the Philadelphia 76ers. The biggest remaining question is whether the Heat will host the 7-8 play-in game or be forced to travel to Philadelphia.

3. How should the Heat handle the remainder of the season?

Miami should take a full-throttle approach to end the season with as much momentum as they can heading into either the playoffs or the play-in. If there is a scenario where the Heat are locked into a play-in berth before the final game of the season, Miami should still play their starters their usual minutes up until the second half.

While acknowledging that injuries can happen, the Heat have not had a full rotation for the majority of the season. This would be a great time for Erik Spoelstra to crystalize his rotation and build some momentum for a postseason run.

Even with all of the ups and downs and injuries suffered throughout the year, Miami still had a chance to boost their odds to avoid the play-in with a victory on Sunday. Now, the Heat put themselves in a spot where they more than likely have to mirror last season and need to earn their playoff spot by competing in the dangerous play-in tournament where anything can happen in a one-game setting.