How the Heat advance in the In-Season Tournament: The easy way and the confusing way

There's a lot at stake for the Miami Heat in Tuesday's matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, including a spot in the next round of the NBA's inaugural in-season tournament. Here are all the scenarios for the Heat's group.

Oct 30, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA;  Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) guards Miami Heat
Oct 30, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) guards Miami Heat / Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
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It’s only November, but there’s a lot at stake for the Miami Heat’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Kesaya Center Tuesday night. 

This is because it marks the final game of group stage play of the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament, which will award the winning team the NBA Cup and its platers $500,000 each. The final will be played on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas.

Two teams, the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers, have already clinched their spots in the quarterfinals, which will take place Dec. 4 and 5. That leaves six more spots and several other teams, including the Heat, vying to advance in this week’s finale.

The Heat are 2-1 in Group B, looking up at the Bucks (3-0) and Knicks (2-1, but ahead by virtue of the tie-breaker). 

The easiest path for Miami to advance is to beat the Bucks and see the Knicks lose to the Hornets at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. But that’s just the cleanest path, and perhaps not the most likely. Point differential in group play may also become a factor.

EAST GROUP B STANDINGS

  1. Milwaukee, 3-0 (+39)
  2. New York, 2-1 (+18)
  3. Miami, 2-1 (+11)
  4. Charlotte, 1-2 (-30)
  5. Washington, 0-4 (-38)

Here are the scenarios for the Heat’s group, and what’s on the line Tuesday night.

The easiest way for the Heat to advance to the next stage of the in-season tournament is with a win over the Bucks Tuesday night AND a Knicks loss to the Hornets.

Milwaukee will win the group if…

  • The Bucks beat the Heat in Miami.
  • The Heat beat the Bucks, the Knicks win at home against the Hornets AND the Bucks win the tiebreaker based on point differential. Here’s an example, courtesy of ESPN: “If Miami beats Milwaukee by a score of 100-87, the Bucks would finish with a point differential of plus-26 and Miami would be plus-24, putting Milwaukee ahead. If the Knicks then beat the Hornets 100-92, New York's point differential would also be plus-26, but the Bucks would get the top spot in the group by virtue of beating the Knicks in their head-to-head matchup."
  • There’s also a very unlikely scenario in which all three teams are tied in record and point differential. The tiebreaker would then go to total points scored. Milwaukee has scored 371 points, Miami 330 and New York 325. So the Bucks so far have the edge in this tiebreaker.

Miami will win the group if…

  • The Heat beat the Bucks and the Knicks lose to the Hornets
  • The Heat beat the Bucks by at least 14 points and the Knicks beat the Hornets by 6 or less.

New York will win the group if…

  • The Heat beat the Bucks and the Knicks win at home against the Hornets, moving the tiebreaker to point differential. (According to ESPN, “the combined margin between New York and Miami's wins is less than 7 points and the combined margin between New York's win and Milwaukee's loss is more than 22 points.")

What about the wild card? 

If the Heat don’t win the group, they could still advance as the only wild card in the East (the winners of all three groups clinch a bid to the knockout round, plus one other remaining team with the best record and point differential).

The Heat can win the wild card if…

  • The Heat beat the Bucks but still finish second in their group, the Cavaliers lose at home to the Hawks, the Celtics lose at home to the Bulls and the Nets lose at home to the Raptors.
  • The Heat win and the Knicks win, but the Heat beat the Bucks by enough to edge them out in point differential for the wild card (while also maintaining a tiebreaker advantage over other teams that finished second in their group).
  • The Cavaliers, Knicks, Celtics and Nets all lose and the Heat finish second in their group and wins the tiebreaker over any second-place team from another group.

TL;DR: Heat fans should cheer for Miami to beat the socks off the Bucks, and for the Knicks to lose to the Hornets (or at least a close game in New York.) Beyond those scenarios, just check back in the morning to see what the NBA’s spreadsheets spit out.

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