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Deadline clarifies Heat playoff view

MIAMI -- The natural reaction is to look upward.

And yes, an ambulatory Evan Turner taking over for a rehabilitating Danny Granger certainly provides more possibilities for Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel.

But the reality is that for the Miami Heat to get past the Pacers in an anticipated (guaranteed?) Eastern Conference finals, it still comes down to whether Dwyane Wade can win his matchup against Lance Stephenson.

Based on Wade's performance Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, those prospects are a whole lot more encouraging.

But the Pacers were very good before Turner, remain very good, but still are mostly about Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and Stephenson. The reality is that if Turner has to do big things for Indiana, then the Pacers are not who we thought they were.

Instead, it is the view below at Thursday's NBA trading deadline that provided the most widespread intrigue, because before there can be an East finals against the Pacers, there first has to be an opening and second round.

For weeks, deciphering potential Heat opening-round possibilities has been as confounding as those potential opponents getting a read on where they were headed.

That's where the trade deadline helped.

With the Toronto Raptors looking now like a solid No. 3 seed, bolstered by not trading Kyle Lowry, and with Tom Thibodeau proving the Chicago Bulls could lose their entire roster to trade or injury and still find a way to win, we appear to have our top four in the East.

Maybe.

Because the Washington Wizards' acquisition of Andre Miller might have been the best subtle deal at the deadline, providing an erratic roster with veteran stability.

That should position the Wizards for no worse than a battle with the Brooklyn Nets for the Nos. 5 and 6 seeds, provided the Nets actually choose to fight for anything beyond just making the postseason. As long as the Russian oligarch was willing to spend, streak-scoring Marcus Thornton should be able to help the Nets secure an extra victory or two.

And beyond that? Well, the Charlotte Bobcats showed they're all-in for a playoff push, with the acquisitions of 2013 NBA Finals pest Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour, with the Cleveland Cavaliers adding Spencer Hawes in a similar make-or-break deadline deal, and the Atlanta Hawks taking their desperation all the way to acquiring and then releasing Antawn Jamison.

By contrast, the lack of activity by the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons makes one wonder if towels haven't already been thrown.

For the Heat, the deal that mattered most on deadline day was the deal made by Indiana. Because every time the Pacers sneeze, the breeze can be felt in South Florida.

But what made a tepid deadline day all the more intriguing for the Heat was how the rest of the Eastern Conference played out, how Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn now look less likely to emerge as first-round opponents, as opposed to glad-to-be-there Charlotte, looking-to-impress-LeBron Cleveland or desperate-to-remain-afloat Atlanta.

In the lane

SENDING A MESSAGE?: The Akron Beacon Journal's recent interview with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert offered a somewhat pointed reference when Gilbert noted that Cleveland holds the Heat's top-10 protected 2015 first-round NBA Draft choice as a result of the 2010 LeBron James sign-and-trade deal. "We still have the Miami pick in '15 -- and who knows what happens there, by the way--there's a lot of things that can happen," he said. The Heat, of course, have to deal with the potential free agency of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh this summer. In Gilbert's dream scenario, he could wind up with LeBron and a Heat 2015 lottery pick.

COPY MACHINE: Before the Heat faced the Dallas Mavericks last week, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle noted that James has appropriated more than just the step-back jumper from Dirk Nowitzki. "He's added another shot, which is one of Dirk's shots, which is the wrong-legged runner across the lane, when he goes off the right foot and shoots it right-handed," Carlisle said. "He's made that in some big moments the last couple of games that I've seen. He keeps adding things, and the great ones do." Carlisle said it reminded him of his former Boston Celtics teammate Larry Bird. "Bird, every summer would go home and he'd come back with one new thing that was a counter to the other things that he did," Carlisle said. And then there is James' post game, with LeBron following up that victory in Dallas by shooting 11 of 11 in the paint against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

WHAT, ME FLOP?: A week ago, after being cited for a flop on a play ruled a foul against James, Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker proclaimed the league got the wrong man, that he would never do something so heinous. "If you watch the play, he extended his arm," Tucker told the Arizona Republic. "That's why I don't get the flop. OK, maybe I fell harder than I should've . . . I'm not known as a flopper. I was kind of mad, because I have never flopped." Um, yeah, until he was cited for a second flop, exactly one week later against the Denver Nuggets, and fined $5,000, joining the Heat's Mario Chalmers, Houston Rockets guard James Harden, Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Corey Brewer as those fined for multiple flops this season.

KEEPING BUSY: Heat 2013 second-round NBA Draft acquisition James Ennis has filled out his schedule as he awaits another offseason tryout with the Heat, who still hold his rights. Following the National Basketball League season in Australia, where he has thrived as an MVP candidate, the athletic swingman out of Long Beach State, will play the short spring season with Piratas de Quebradillas in Puerto Rico's Baloncesto Superior Nacional. Ennis cited helping his family financially among his reasons for bypassing the season in the D-League. He remains a longshot to join the Heat this season, with Pat Riley's preference running toward experience at this point of the season.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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