MIAMI (AP) -Only in the Eastern Conference could this notion seem anything but crazy.
The Miami Heat dropped 15 consecutive games, lost centers Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O'Neal to injuries, plunged to the second-worst record in the NBA and spent the last month as a punchline for pundits.
So, one win later, they're talking playoffs.
Playoffs?
Improbable as it seems, the Heat - at 9-33 - see no reason why they can't make a run at the postseason.
``The playoffs are not far-fetched,'' guard Dwyane Wade said after his 35-point showing lifted the Heat to the streak-ending 98-96 win Saturday over the Indiana Pacers. ``I played on a team that went 17-4 in our last 21 games to get in the playoffs. It can happen.''
If the Heat played the stacked West, they'd already be 15 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot.
But the East is, shall we say, a tad more forgiving.
Miami entered Sunday 8 1/2 games behind Indiana and New Jersey, who were tied for the No. 8 seed in the East. The Heat have 40 games remaining, including the still-to-be-decided final minute of the matchup the NBA ordered replayed in Atlanta, with 19 of them against teams with records currently below .500.
It's a longshot.
OK, a real longshot.
But not mathematically impossible, either.
And that's why Miami sounds like it'll now savor the challenge coach Pat Riley put in place at midnight on Oct. 2, when he gathered the team for the first practice of training camp - telling them he wanted the Heat to be the last team standing when the season ends in June.
``We need to get back on the right path, the one that we started when we got here at midnight in training camp,'' forward Dorell Wright said. ``Hopefully we get it going again and make another run - the other way, though.''
The next two weeks will likely decide if this fantasy has any shot of becoming reality.
Miami plays six of its final eight games before the All-Star break against teams with winning records, starting with a home date Tuesday with NBA-leading Boston followed the next night by a trip to Orlando - which has beaten the Heat seven straight times.
Making the task even tougher? O'Neal is still sidelined indefinitely with a sore left hip.
``We had to do whatever we could to get this win,'' Wade said. ``Now we can move forward.''
Getting that win, even over an Indiana team that had lost 12 of its last 16 and was playing without Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley, immediately lightened the mood around the Heat.
The best gauge of that came a few minutes after the final buzzer.
When Riley starts quoting Bruce Springsteen - he dropped a couple lyrics from ``My City of Ruins'' after the game - you know he's feeling pretty good.
``The thing hasn't imploded,'' Riley said. ``So we move on from here.''
In Wade's rookie season, the Heat started 0-7 before winning 17 of their final 21 to not only get into the playoffs, but earn the East's No. 4 seed in the process.
The hole that year wasn't as deep as this one, not by a long shot.
But with so many players still here from the 2006 NBA championship team, maybe something is still possible.
``It's been unreal to see what's happened here this year,'' said former Heat forward Steve Smith, now an analyst for the Atlanta Hawks. ``But the crazy thing is if this team can get in, well, I'll just say no team will want to see the Miami Heat coming in the No. 8 spot.''
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