The Heat and its fans survived Monday night to pray another day, to hang onto hope.
You know how this is going to end, though, right?
Miami has just enough playoff chance left to make believing a little easier, but still not enough to trust the feeling. Because you know how this is going to end, don’t you?
Miami beating the awful Orlando Magic here Monday, 100-93, coupled with Brooklyn losing to Chicago, means the Heat has a warm ember left among the cold coals, but still nothing you’d count on catching fire.
To make the playoffs Miami must win at Philadelphia on Wednesday, hope Indiana loses Tuesday vs. Washington and Wednesday at Memphis, and hope Brooklyn loses Wednesday vs. Orlando. The latter of those four requirements seems plainly doubtful.
But so does Indiana, with everything to play for, losing at home to a Washington team with zero to play for.
So you brace yourself mentally.
How could you not?
The way this weird, limping season has gone, how could it not end with the Heat ultimately being bumped from the playoff party at the last moment?
But here’s the thing.
It doesn’t matter much.
All this late drama over whether Miami sneaks into the NBA postseason or narrowly misses — who really cares. Missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 would be sobering. But would a near-certain first-round elimination by No. 1 seed Atlanta be that much greater?
The significance coming out of this season, no matter when it ends, is that the next one clearly should be better, with Chris Bosh back healthy, with a full year of Goran Dragic and with a full season of a continuing-to-develop Hassan Whiteside. The optimism moving forward justified by those three things alone should be more than ample consolation for missing the playoffs.
Whiteside had 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots Monday, continuing to tease us with what could be emerging greatness.
The unearthing and polishing of that 7-foot gem alone, augmented by the acquisition of Dragic, works to shape this season as a positive in a way that somehow still miracle-ing into the playoffs would not.
“There’s still hope,” Whiteside said after the game.
He meant hope in the playoff chase. He might also have meant hope for the future.
No, the disappointment of this season wouldn’t be missing the playoffs, but rather how they were missed.
The excuses are lined up waiting in a neat little parade — the only parade this Heat team will deliver this year.
Losing the best player in the NBA, LeBron James, to free agency.
Losing Bosh for the second half of the season to blood clots.
The unrelenting injuries that caused coach Erik Spoelstra to shuffle in 30 different starting lineup combinations, a mind-bending number that tied a franchise record.
Those are legitimate reasons for a losing record.
But there is no excuse for how this ended.
No good one, anyway.
No excuse for Miami’s fight for the playoffs resulting in nine losses in the previous 12 games before Monday’s home finale. That’s a stretch run right into a brick wall.
No reasonable rationale for losses along the way after blowing leads of 19, 16 and 15 points. Monday was headed for another such debacle, with a 22-point Heat lead frittered down to six with inside of two minutes left.
No way to justify how Miami — even with all that went wrong — failed to finish among the eight best teams in a really, really bad Eastern Conference.
Just three weeks ago the playoffs seemed a certainty, and a No. 6 seed and favorable first-round matchup seemed possible, even likely. Miami was making the best of the hand dealt it — poised to deny LeBron the satisfaction of thinking the Heat could not make the playoffs without him.
Now the last laugh seems to belong to James. The King departed after leading Miami to four consecutive NBA Finals including two championships, and what he left behind unraveled late.
“This year has had its challenges,” Spoelstra understated. “We’ve been grinding and fighting.”
And, lately, collapsing too often as well.
Monday was Fan Appreciation Night, by the way, and why not?
Bottom line, Heat fans had a much better season than their team did.