MIAMI -- If everything goes according to form, the Miami Heat -- for the first time since starting the season with a brutal 11-30 record -- will be in playoff position by late Wednesday night.
The Heat (32-35) will play host to the New Orleans Pelicans (27-40) on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Later that night, the Milwaukee Bucks (32-34), the team the Heat are chasing for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, will visit the Los Angeles Clippers. The Chicago Bulls, who are tied with the Heat, will play host to Memphis Grizzlies.
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If the team with the better record wins all three of those games, the Heat would be alone in eighth place. Then again, the Heat, 21-5 in its past 26 games, are realistically shooting for higher than eighth place.
With the way Miami has been playing the past two months, there is no reason to doubt that this team will be among, say, the top six teams in the conference by the time they conclude their regular season on April 12.
A No. 6 seed, for example, could give Miami a matchup against the Toronto Raptors, a challenge that would be far from impossible for the Heat.
Because of Miami's amazing turnaround, the Heat's Erik Spoelstra is a solid candidate for NBA Coach of the Year.
"He deserves all the credit he's getting," Heat president Pat Riley said of Spoelstra earlier this week in an interview with The Miami Herald.
The latest challenge for Spoelstra is managing the team without starting point guard Goran Dragic, who missed Sunday's loss at the Indiana Pacers after he got elbowed in the right eye in Miami's previous game.
Dragic, who had his right eye swollen shut on Sunday, returned to practice on Tuesday and is expected to play on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans are without 7-foot center Omer Asik (infection), who has started 19 games. They returned 6-foot-8 small forward Dante Cunningham (illness) to the lineup on Tuesday night in a 100-77 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. He scored six points in 25 minutes off the bench.
It was the Pelicans' second straight win, but they trail the Denver Nuggets by five games in their long-shot bid for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Pelicans rely primarily on 6-foot-4 point guard Jrue Holiday, 6-foot-10, 255-pound power forward Anthony Davis and 6-foot-11, 270-pound center DeMarcus Cousins.
It's a formidable trio. However, the Pelicans are just 4-6 since acquiring Cousins is a trade with the Sacramento Kings. They lost their first four games since making the deal and have improved of late.
Holiday, who was playing well before the deal, has struggled to find enough shots and activity level with the addition of a high-volume scorer such as Cousins.
Davis, other than being bothered by an injury to his left wrist and left ankle, has been fine, though. On Saturday, Davis celebrated his 24th birthday with another monster performance -- 46 points and 21 rebounds in a 125-122 overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Davis is just the third NBA player since 1983 to score at least 46 points and grab at least 21 boards in the same game, joining Shaq O'Neal and Chris Webber.
"Anthony did a great job of going quickly," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told the media that night. "He didn't wait for the double (team)."
Cousins sat the final 9:25 of the fourth quarter and all of the OT period after getting charged with his fifth foul.
"I wasn't mad," said Cousins, who said it had been a long time -- maybe since his rookie year -- since he sat out so much at the end of a game. "We pulled out a good win."
Tuesday was another good win for the Pelicans, who set a season low in turnovers (five). The Pelicans also had their best defensive effort of the season, holding Portland to just 30.3 percent shooting. The 77 points was also the lowest allowed by New Orleans all season.
One concern for New Orleans is the health of Davis, who missed half of the second quarter after twisting his left ankle. He finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds in 29 minutes.
Pelicans guard Wayne Selden Jr., who signed a 10-day contract on Monday, got the start and scored two points in 15 minutes.