The NBA’s irregular regular season ended on an irregular note, epitomized by a game pitting the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, two hapless teams hoping to lose.
Typical of a season in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong, the Heat couldn’t even lose when it wanted to, despite blowing another large lead.
In the end, the miserable end, the Heat’s 105-101 victory didn’t matter anyway. Because the Brooklyn Nets — another bad team — defeated the Orlando Magic — a putrid team — the Heat finished with the league’s 10th-worst record (37-45) and held on to its 91 percent chance of keeping its NBA Draft lottery pick.
The Heat won’t be in the playoffs after four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. It will be an anticlimactic spring around here without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh going after another of those multiple championships they anticipated when James brought his talents to South Beach in 2010.
Should South Floridians cheer for the Cleveland Cavaliers as their surrogate team instead?
At least the NBA’s second season starts Saturday. It’s been a painful 82-game slog for many teams and fans.
Woe to the Oklahoma City Thunder, also out of the picture after three Western Conference finals and one NBA Finals appearance in the last five seasons. Like the Heat, OKC was plagued by injuries: Kevin Durant was limited to 29 games by an injured right foot, Serge Ibaka had knee surgery last month, and five others missed playing time.
We’re all cheated by the premature end of Russell Westbrook’s season. He became only the fourth point guard in NBA history to win the league scoring title, averaging 28.15 points. He logged nine triple-doubles after Durant went down.
The New York Knicks — the Heat’s once-fierce rival and a former glamor franchise — deserve at least a little pity. They lost their final game to finish 17-65, the worst in franchise history. Knicks fan Dennis Doyle attended all 82 games, which cost him $26,000 over five months. He decided to follow his favorite team after he lost his job as a lawyer. He wrote a blog called “The Oakman Cometh: A Season with the New York Knicks.”
His masochistic odyssey included a side trip to the Grand Canyon after a loss at Phoenix. Despite the beautiful vistas, “Staring into the abyss, it was hard not to think of the Knicks,” the Astoria, Queens, resident told The New York Times. Around mid-March, he began rooting for his team to lose and improve its chances of a top pick in the draft.
Remember when Knicks president Phil Jackson and Lakers lifer Kobe Bryant were on top of the basketball world? Their teams finished a combined 77 games behind their division leaders.
The Knicks share an owner — James L. Dolan — and a home — Madison Square Garden — with the Rangers, who earned the NHL’s best regular-season record.
In Boston, another contrast: The lousy but resurgent Celtics are in the playoffs. The underperforming NHL Bruins are out for the first time in eight years.
The Celtics (40-42) join the Nets (38-44) as the 10th and 11th teams with losing records to make the playoffs since 2000. The previous nine were all from the Eastern Conference, and all lost in the first round.
The playoff situation only highlights the imbalance between East and West. A good team like OKC is out while a weak one like Brooklyn slinks in. Realignment discussion needs to accelerate.
Speaking of the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs are the hot teams entering the playoffs. Unfortunately, they’ll face each other in the first round as seed Nos. 3 and 6. One of these compelling teams will only get a fleeting glimpse.
Likewise, how long can the Houston Rockets survive with James Harden shouldering the burden? Harden, who deserves MVP honors, got the Rockets into the playoffs despite Dwight Howard’s 41-game absence. Howard is back, but barely.
Chicago’s Derrick Rose is back, but he left Wednesday’s final game with soreness in his left knee — the one he hurt in the 2012 playoffs.
Among other intriguing storylines, the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry are title favorites. Golden State is the No. 1 seed for the first time since 1976, the year Tim Duncan was born and 17 years before Anthony Davis was born. Davis, 22, makes his playoff debut after leading the New Orleans Pelicans past the Spurs and into the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Another team to watch is Atlanta, which models its style after San Antonio. The Hawks’ 60-22 record makes them No. 1 in the East, but did they peak too early in the NBA marathon?
Which brings us back to Cleveland. Kevin Love is making his first trip to the playoffs. Can Kyrie Irving solve matchup puzzles over the course of a deep run? When will LeBron take over? And how would the entire playoff scenario look if LeBron had stayed in Miami?
But the NBA’s second season is no time for What Ifs. It’s time for What Now?