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Eastern Conference Playoff Bracket: where the Miami Heat stand as of this afternoon

Tight conference races make predicting final playoff matches a challenging task.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Reaching the Eastern Conference Finals depends not only on what the initial seedings are, but the group makeup.

Just as whether a team is in the Eastern or Western Conference makes a difference in the path to the NBA Finals, what teams are in the second round can make or break reaching the Conference Finals.

The Miami Heat have done well against their initial group (as of today) of four, i.e. Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics.

The other group of the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Indiana Pacers (Milwaukee Bucks are the exception) can present more of a match-up challenge.

Injuries right before the playoffs, such as those to Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas or even a Miami Heat player, could change the picture of success or failure for any short-term series in a minute.

The Cavaliers, 76ers and Pacers are so tightly bunched together their final place may only be determined on the last day of the season.

For the Heat, the Cavaliers dropping to 4th place would have Miami playing the winner of Wizards versus a Pacers or 76ers series in the second round, providing the Heat get past the formidable Celtics team.

First priority is making the playoffs with a healthy team, and what happens afterwards is too unpredictable to worry about.