Greg Cote

Bring on the postseason! Our teams aren’t ‘back,’ but optimism sure is — for one night

Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade shoots the winning basket over Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons in the final seconds of the game at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, Feb. 27, 2018.
Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade shoots the winning basket over Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons in the final seconds of the game at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, Feb. 27, 2018.

Miami likes to call itself the “Magic City,” an epithet that arose in the 1890s when Henry Flagler, founder of the Florida East Coast Railway and developer of the state’s southeast region, assigned publicist E.V. Blackman to write a positive story for Flagler’s magazine, East Coast Homeseeker, and lure Northerners to relocate here. In the puff piece Miami became the “Magic City,” and the nickname at least intermittently lives on.

Tuesday night, it was true again. The magic was real. South Florida sports fans have seldom had a more exhilarating night from three teams — the Miami Heat, Hurricanes men’s basketball and the Florida Panthers — concurrently all pulling off such big, dramatic, emotional, last-second wins.

The Heat beating the Philadelphia 76ers 102-101 as Dwyane Wade’s jumper with 5.9 seconds left lifts the home arena to cap a vintage performance by Wade in only his sixth game back where he belongs. On his sneakers Dwyane wore the name of Joaquin Oliver, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victim buried in a No. 3 Wade jersey.

Canes topping No. 9-ranked North Carolina on the road, 91-88, on Ja’Quan Newton’s buzzer-beating three-point shot — the biggest win of a season played under the vague cloud of that FBI recruiting-scandal probe. “This is one thing I always dreamed,” said Newton of his hero’s role. “It’s something I’ll remember forever.”

And Panthers on home ice beating Toronto, 3-2, on a goal by unsung Jared McCann in overtime. The Cats, skating with helmet decals and sleeve patches for the victims of that Douglas shooting — playing the rest of the season in honor of that school so near the team.

Sports can’t touch the heart much more than it did for South Florida from three directions Tuesday night.

Part of why it felt so good is that it felt so needed. Was luck involved? Sure. All three teams could as easily have lost. But none did. Instead, all produced victories that had a little bit of a turning point feel.

All three teams have had somewhat disappointing seasons for different reasons. All three are in crunch time as their postseasons approach. All three just produced simultaneous wins that feed hope for the upside of what could happen from here.

Miami’s Ja’Quan Newton is congratulated by teammates following Newton’s game-winning shot against North Carolina as time expired in the NCAA basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. The Hurricanes won 91-88. Gerry Broome AP

Can the Heat win a first-round playoff series? Might the Hurricanes do some damage in the NCAA Tournament? Will the hot Panthers continue to rally and make the playoffs?

Tuesday night let you think, “Well, yes. Why not!” It validated optimism. It was a drug for three fan bases in need of the high.

The Heat has won two in a row after losing eight of the previous nine. A team once fourth in the NBA Eastern Conference has sunk to eighth, the far edge of playoff contention — but Miami is now only 2 1/2 games out of fifth place, meaning a much easier first-round playoff matchup is in reach. The season was reinvigorated by the recent reunion with the beloved Wade, who just reminded us that, even at 36, he still can be the Heat’s best player on a given night. (Not sure that’s necessarily a good thing, that Wade at 36 is your best player, although it felt plenty good Tuesday night watching him channel his prime with 27 points, including 15 of the Heat’s last 17).

Florida Panthers center Jared McCann, second from right, celebrates with teammates after his game-winning overtime goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Sunrise. Florida won 3-2. Joe Skipper AP

The Hurricanes have won three in a row and, at 21-8 after beating a top 10 team, have erased any doubt they should make the NCAAs no matter how they fare in next week’s ACC tournament. But this is not UM overachieving. This is UM trying to catch up to its potential. Remember, the Canes once were 10-0 and ranked No. 6 in the nation, Final Four dreams seeming more and more real, before gradually tumbling. Now, beating North Carolina on the road reawakens that early promise. It lets Canes fans looking ahead to March Madness maybe raise the bar again to, say, Sweet 16?

The Panthers looked done. The Stanley Cup playoffs were running away from them. But the rising Cats have now won three in a row (all against strong opponents) and 10 of the past 13 to climb within a surmountable five points of playoff pace, sparked by the return from injury of goaltender Roberto Luongo and, yes, by the emotion of playing to lift the spirit of tragedy-struck Parkland even just a little. If it sneaks into the postseason, Florida will have fashioned one of the great comebacks of this NHL season, and would be a very, very tough out for somebody in the first round.

Three teams all have had their struggles and trials this season, but Tuesday night three teams arose and reminded us what’s possible.

For one night: Magic City.

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