These are confusing times for the Heat. With only a few days left in the regular season, winning games might actually be a bad thing.
So, naturally, the Heat won on fan appreciation night, the team’s final home game of the season.
All but eliminated from the playoff race but still very much alive in the hunt for a lottery draft pick, the Heat defeated the Orlando Magic 100-93 on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. The win, coupled with a loss by the Brooklyn Nets, mathematically kept the Heat eligible for the postseason for at least another day. The playoffs remain an unlikely long shot, though.
What is attainable at the end of this season of suffering, however, is that parting gift the NBA gives its worst teams this time of year — a lottery pick. The Heat (36-45) was 10th in the draft order with one game remaining in the regular season after defeating the Magic, but that result had the possibility of adversely affecting the team’s chances of keeping that spot in the lottery.
If the Heat falls to 11th in the draft order, then the Philadelphia 76ers get the Heat’s draft pick. In NBA parlance, the Heat’s draft pick this year is “top-10 protected.” In other words, it goes to the 76ers after that as one of the final remnants of the deal Heat president Pat Riley made in the summer of 2010 to get LeBron James.
With rebuilding the Heat already on the minds of many, there was a large faction of fans on Monday actively rooting for the Heat to lose to the Magic. Why? A draft pick might be more useful to the team at this point than fighting for a playoff spot.
Hassan Whiteside had 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks to lead Miami. He has 22 double-doubles this season. In what was likely his final game in AmericanAirlines Arena this season, Whiteside acknowledged the Heat’s fans after the game for their support during his redemptive return to the NBA.
For the Heat to make the playoffs several things must break Miami’s way in the final two days of the regular season. For starters, the team must defeat, coincidentally, the 76ers on Wednesday. In addition to that victory, the Heat needs the Nets and Indiana Pacers to lose their remaining games.
“So you’re saying there’s a chance,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, joking during his postgame news conference. “I don’t know what the percentage is now, but at least it’s gone up a couple ticks.”
The Nets play the Magic on Wednesday. The Pacers finish the season with a game on Tuesday against the Washington Wizards and a game on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies. If the Pacers win on Tuesday, the Heat is out of the playoffs.
With long odds to make the postseason, but still a chance all the same, the Heat approached the game against the Magic as a “must-win” scenario. A loss would have eliminated Miami from the playoff race.
“The guys have been true to their commitment, to the purity, to the effort,” Spoelstra said. “We haven’t always gotten the results we all wanted, and sometimes there have been some disappointments, but for the most part this group has bought it.”
As for the game against the Magic on Monday, the Heat led by 22 points in the third quarter but gave most of that away in the fourth quarter. It took a clutch three-pointer by Luol Deng and free throws by Dwyane Wade in the final 30 seconds to seal the victory.
It being fan appreciation night, everything was 30 percent off in the arena’s team store. In other words, total liquidation time for the team that was within reach of sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings only two weeks ago, but then lost nine of 12 games to all but eliminate itself from the playoffs.
Wade finished with 22 points, four rebounds and five assists. He had 15 points in the second half. The Heat led 57-39 at halftime.
“This time of year, we’ve been through so much, you’ve just got to figure out a way to stop the bleeding,” Wade said. “The worst thing is to have a 20-point lead in the first half. I’ve always said that, and I’m going to stick by that. You don’t want to be up that much early.”