It was perhaps fitting that the waking nightmare in which the Miami Heat found themselves was never more terrifying than on Friday 13, January to be exact, following yet another defeat, this time to the Milwaukee Bucks.
With the smell of prolonged success still faintly lingering over South Beach, the Heat dropped to an 11-30 record that night, out of contention, out of luck, out of sight.
Yet sometimes dreams come alive and so do once-woeful teams. With four games of the NBA regular season left, the Heat sits improbably in the hunt for a playoff spot following a 27 win and 10 loss run that has confounded even them.
But now they must work a miracle to steal a spot in the top eight in the Eastern Conference with the toughest run-in among the five teams realistically scrapping for four places, with only two wins separating fifth from ninth.
In practice, the toughest challenge comes on Friday where Miami travel to the Toronto Raptors – with Canada’s finest still pursuing the stumbling Boston Celtics for both the Atlantic Division title and second (or even third) seed.
Ahead lie an away and home duel dip with the Washington Wizards, who could also surpass the Celtics. And in between, a visit from the Cleveland Cavaliers, who – after four straight wins – might by then have stuttered into locking up first place in the East.
If not for an unnecessary loss to the eliminated New York Knicks this week, the Heat could have their own destiny under control. Now they will find it difficult to get past Toronto, who are trying to work Kyle Lowry back into the rotation before the post-season begins.
Injuries may hurt Miami most. But the Raps, who lost 104-89 on their last trip to Florida, are on a roll. Nine wins out of 11 – an average of -7.5 points on that stretch – have them emboldened, even with their guests giving up a remarkable 101.9 per game on the season.
On recent form, taking Toronto on a handicap of -6.5 at 2.12 is worth a peek. But with the Heat proving themselves fighters beyond compare this term, don’t be shocked if they lure their remaining foes into a slugfest to keep the unlikely dream above ground.
Best bet: Go under 202.5 total points in Toronto-Miami at 2.35
With one eye on the Draft lottery, teams at the bottom are eyeing losses not wins in the final week. None more convincingly than the Phoenix Suns with 13 successive defeats than have kept them a little below the LA Lakers who, to their own detriment, have inexplicably taken two victories in a row.
The Suns host the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday with both just three days away from bringing their seasons to an end. The Mavs haven’t shown a tonne of resilience lately but with zero incentive for Phoenix to rise, it could allow high-scoring All Star-style shootout with over 130 points not unrealistic.