Here’s an irony for you. If Miami manages to earn the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Heat fans can draw inspiration from one of the lowest moments in franchise history.
Not wanting to rub any more salt than necessary into an old wound, I won’t give you all the details. Just two words. Allan Houston.
We’re talking 1999, when the New York Knicks became the only No. 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals.
They defeated a No. 1 seed in the opening round (all right, it was Miami) and it was only a five-game series (not seven like today’s format) and it came at the end of a weird labor-lockout season (the Knicks’ regular-season record was 27-23).
Still, any way you slice it, a No. 8 seed got it going in the playoffs, which is Miami’s fondest dream now, well, after qualifying for the playoffs in the first place.
That year the Knicks beat Miami in five games, swept Atlanta in four, eliminated Indiana in six games and reached the NBA Finals against San Antonio, which did not end well but was more interesting than it should have been. The Spurs clinched the league championship in Game 5, by a score of 78-77.
Four other times a No. 8 seed has won a first-round playoff series against a No. 1.
If Miami gets in as a No. 8, that would mean knocking off the Cleveland Cavaliers, defending NBA champions. Tough sledding, but here’s how it has happened previously.
Denver beat top-seed Seattle 3-2 in 1994’s first round.
Golden State upset the No. 1 Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the opening round of the 2007 playoffs.
Memphis beat the top-seeded Spurs 4-2 in 2011.
Then, the very next year, Philadelphia knocked off the No. 1 Chicago bulls 4-2.
In every case but the 1999 Knicks, the upstart 8-seed was eliminated in the second round.
All anybody wants is a shot, however, and that’s what Miami is fighting for now.