Turns out it was tough for the Miami Heat to lose a game on purpose, too.
Due to a strange set of circumstances, the Heat played its final game of the regular season on Wednesday with no intention of winning. In fact, there was a strong incentive to lose. Under that backdrop, the Heat defeated the Sixers 105-101, and in the process left open the possibility, if only for a short while, of losing its first-round draft pick to the Sixers.
After falling out of playoff contention over the last week of the season, the Heat’s final game of the schedule was a convoluted affront to athletic competition. Both teams wanted to lose. It was an embarrassing way to finish for the Heat, which went to the NBA Finals for four consecutive years before this broken season.
The Heat (37-45) needed to lose to assure itself the No. 10 spot in the upcoming lottery. Meanwhile, the Sixers also wanted to lose because they owned the rights to the Heat’s pick if the Heat fell out of the bottom 10 teams in the lottery. The Sixers acquired those rights in a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Turns out, none of it actually mattered because the Brooklyn Nets came from behind to defeat the Orlando Magic. That result gave the Nets one more victory this season than the Heat, guaranteeing the Heat the 10th worst record in the NBA, and the spot in the lottery that goes along with it.
With the season now over, the Heat’s scouting department will begin preparing in earnest for the draft.
For more than three nervous, confusing and slightly nauseous quarters on Wednesday night, all that was in doubt, though. It wasn’t until the Nets came from behind in Brooklyn and then pulled away late that the Heat could take a deep breath back in Philadelphia and actually try to win the game.
The Heat led by 18 points at halftime, but then gave it all away in the third and fourth quarters. The game was tied at 94-94 with 3:05 left.
The Sixers took a 101-100 lead on a dunk by JaKarr Sampson when Heat guard Tyler Johnson dribbled the ball off his foot for a turnover with 23 seconds left. Heat forward Henry Walker then drilled the game-winning three-pointer with nine seconds to go.
Walker finished with 21 points and Michael Beasley led the Heat with 34 points. He also had 11 rebounds and eight assists, or two assists shy of a triple-double in what might be his final game with the Heat, and possibly in the NBA.
It was all meaningless drivel, really. After watching its chances of making the playoffs officially end on Tuesday night, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra canceled his team’s shootaround scheduled for Wednesday morning at Temple University, and then gave all of his regular starters and rotation players the night off at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.
In reality, the Heat chances of making the playoffs all but ended last Saturday with a loss to the Toronto Raptors, but Spoelstra kept his team competitively invested in the season until the final day.
It was only after the Pacers defeated the Wizards on Tuesday night, and in the process knocking the Heat out of the playoff race, that Spoelstra threw in the towel.
Spoelstra and his players watched the Pacers’ double-overtime victory against the Wizards hoping the result would go their way. It didn’t.
“That’s the torture of leaving it to somebody else,” Spoelstra said. “We had our opportunities. I’m very proud of the toughness and grit this team has shown the last few weeks, and the guys really developed a connection.”
With the playoffs out of the picture, the only thing possibly left to gain from this failed season was that first-round draft pick, and, by some fluke in the schedule, the Heat ended its season of suffering against the Sixers. For most of the game, the Sixers wanted the Heat to win and the Heat wanted the Sixers to win. It made for an odd night of basketball.
Beforehand, Spoelstra didn’t admit to wanting to lose, but his starting lineup spoke volumes. He went with Zoran Dragic for the first time alongside Walker, Johnson, Beasley and James Ennis.
In addition to the five starters, only one player came off the bench for the Heat. Udonis Haslem played for little more than seven minutes. Walker, Ennis, Beasley and Johnson played the entire 48 minutes of the game. Dragic played 41 minutes.
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR HEAT IN DRAFT
The Heat’s win over the 76ers in Wednesday night’s regular-season finale could have cost Miami its first-round pick in the 2015 draft — had it not been for the Nets’ comeback win over the Magic. Miami is assured of finishing the season with the league’s 10th-worst record (37-45) and will have a 91percent chance of keeping its lottery pick, including a 4 percent chance of moving into the top three of the NBA Draft. But it also has an 8.8percent chance of falling to 11th after the lottery, which would mean giving up the pick to the 76ers.