Whether the Heat wins Wednesday in Dallas or not, Miami will enter the All Star break out of playoff position, a predicament the franchise hardly envisioned entering this season.
And while Miami remains just one game behind No. 8 Detroit and 1.5 behind No. 7 Charlotte, the notion of Dwyane Wade missing the playoffs in his final NBA season has now become a real possibility, an issue Wade was circumspect about in the wake of Monday’s 103-87 loss in Denver, Miami’s third in a row and 10th in its past 14.
Yes, advancing to postseason was among Wade’s goals is his final NBA sojourn.
But he admitted late Monday night at Pepsi Center that there’s something that personally supersedes that.
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“Just want to continue to have these guys develop,” Wade said. “I’m not worried about the record. I’m not looking at it. My goal here is to help these guys develop and try to take steps forward. If they’re doing that, it’s fine. At the end of the season ... we’re either going to be in the playoffs or we’re not. But my whole goal this last year is to be able to hopefully leave something with these young guys so they can continue to take the steps going forward. And they’ve had moments where they’ve done that.”
But would there be sadness if he misses postseason for only the third time in a 16 year career?
“If I could come into the season and say the record that I want, then I would say the record that would put us in the playoffs,” he said. “Guys are playing their heart out. We’re unfortunately not winning the games right now that we would like to. But it’s part of the NBA, tough part of the schedule.”
The Heat and Pistons – who split two earlier matchups — meet twice more, both in Miami, and those games could determine the tiebreaker between the teams, which Detroit currently owns based on superior conference record.
The Heat has the most difficult schedule among the Heat, Pistons, Hornets and No. 6 Nets, who are 2.5 games ahead of Miami.
Of Miami’s 27 remaining games, 18 are against teams currently holding playoff seeds, and nine of those are on the road. Of the nine games against non-playoff teams, there are two difficult games against Dallas, plus one against a Hawks team that’s 3-0 against Miami.
Of Detroit’s 27 remaining games, 14 are against playoff teams. Eight are on the road, including difficult ones at Portland, Golden State, Denver and Oklahoma City.
Of Charlotte’s 26 remaining games, 15 are against playoff teams, including seven on the road with Warriors and at Jazz among those seven. Of Brooklyn’s 24 remaining games, 15 are against playoff teams, including eight on the road.
Losing these games on this Western swing serves as a painful reminder that Miami squandered several games it should have won earlier this season, including a combined six losses to the Hawks, Bulls and Magic.
“I go back and think about it but more as a learning experience to not to let it happen again,” Justise Winslow said.
But even in going 1-3 on this trip, Erik Spoelstra said: “I think we’re going in the right direction. A lot of good things on this road trip. It hasn’t translated to wins.”
Among the encouraging signs:
▪ Josh Richardson has shaken out of his shooting slump. He’s shooting 60 percent on this trip (33 for 55).
“I got out of my own head; that was the biggest thing,” he said. “I had a little stretch where I was thinking too much and not playing the game. Thinking about, ‘I got to play well, I got to do this or that.’ Overthinking where shots are coming from, trying to get the best shots instead of just shooting open looks and playing attacking and aggressive.”
▪ James Johnson has played much better now that he’s coming off the bench.
“Just trying to bring that force, that relentlessness every game,” he said. “Some games I felt nobody can stop me in this league and some games, it’s like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, a fog.’ I’m feeling more healthy [after sports hernia surgery last May]. We have so much talent on this team that sometimes it looks like I’m laying in the weeds.”
▪ Hassan Whiteside had his best stretch of the season before being limited to six points and eight rebounds in Denver. And Dion Waiters also has made strides. Plus, the Heat expects Goran Dragic to return shortly from knee surgery, in the days after the All-Star break.
And, as Winslow said, “the chemistry is getting better and we’re fighting like crazy on both ends.”
But it hasn’t consistently translated to wins. Whether it translates into a playoff berth remains very much in question.