LeBron James and Chris Bosh watched the entire game from the bench and it didn’t take long for Dwyane Wade to join them.
Preparation for the playoffs began in earnest Monday for the defending back-to-back champion Miami Heat, which is to say the Heat cared little and less about its final road game of the regular season, and, for that matter, the No. 1 seed that was still potentially at stake when the NBA’s set of games began on Monday night.
Before the tipoff, there were several playoff scenarios on the table with almost every position in the Eastern Conference standings undetermined.
But the suspense didn’t last long, and the Heat’s penultimate game of the regular season was anything but compelling. For the Heat, the fluid standings quickly came into focus during the first quarter at Verizon Center.
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In other words, the Heat’s main goal was getting back to Miami as quickly as possible and without any more injuries to its veteran roster. The final, forgettable score: Wizards 114, Heat 93.
The more important outcome from Monday night: The Heat (54-27) locked itself into the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference standings, officially losing home-court advantage to the Indiana Pacers if both teams reach the Eastern Conference finals. Miami’s first-round opponent will be determined Wednesday, the final day of the season.
“It will be no disappointment when the playoffs start,” Wade said of losing the No.1 seed. “It will be a new season and we will be looking forward to it.”
Why did the Heat rest players with the No. 1 seed potentially still on the table?
“It was out of our control at some point, and those guys have put a lot of mileage, like I said,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“Our schedule was fairly extreme down the stretch. I have never been a part of a group that have played that many games in that few of days down the stretch run. It’s not an excuse. We just want to make sure our guys are feeling right, that they’re sharp, that they’re feeling healthy and they have minor ailments that a couple days will do wonders for them.”
The Heat most likely will play the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round unless the Bobcats defeat the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday and the Wizards lose to the Boston Celtics. The Pacers, who defeated Oklahoma City on Sunday, needed only to defeat the Magic on Wednesday to clinch the No. 1 seed. That game now no longer matters in the playoff standings.
Wade said the Heat would not start thinking about the playoffs until Thursday, although they spoke to the contrary on Monday. The team finishes the regular season Wednesday night with a meaningless home game against Philadelphia.
James and Bosh were both inactive against the Wizards after playing sluggish basketball in a blowout loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. Both players — and perhaps Wade as well — are expected to sit out Wednesday’s game.
“I know neither one of them asked for the time, but this last stretch that we’ve had — 27 games in 47 days — is remarkable,” Spoelstra said.
Shane Battier and Toney Douglas started in place of James and Bosh, which made for an unconventional lineup. Wade started at small forward against Wizards forward Trevor Ariza.
It wasn’t a good match-up for the Heat.
Ariza led the Wizards (43-38) with 25 points, going 10 of 13 from the field and 5 of 8 from three-point range. Five players scored in double figures for Washington, which, depending on outcomes Tuesday and Wednesday, could finish fifth, sixth or seventh in the East. Whatever happens, Washington is in the playoffs for the first time in six years.
“It’s going to be special,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. “No matter what the outcome is guys that haven’t been in the playoffs will remember that first game forever because it is so distinct and different.”
Michael Beasley led the Heat with 18 points off the bench. Douglas had 14 points, going 5 of 8 from the field. Wade had nine points in less than 19 minutes.