(Miami, FL) – For a season with so many highs, lows, twists and turns, the Miami Heat‘s magical campaign to make the Eastern Conference playoffs came up just short but still ended on a winning note.
Although this 2016-17 squad will not be participating in the playoffs, their record-breaking season should have the players and personnel holding their heads high and have a place in the hearts of Heat fans forever.
In their regular season finale, the Heat (41-41) became the first team in NBA history to come from 19 games under .500 to finish the season with a .500 record after they beat the Washington Wizards (49-33) by a score of 110-102 on Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena.
“I hope we get a standing ovation for our players at the end,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game against the Wizards.
Coach Spoelstra definitely got his wish, as his team got a standing ovation from the Heat crowd during the final minute of the fourth quarter.
Heat point guard Goran Dragic, who finished with a game-high 28 points and five assists, praised the Miami fans for their support of the team throughout the 11-30 season turnaround.
“It means a lot for those fans who were supporting us through the whole season,” Dragic said. “The players, we never gave up. We continued to fight.”
The Heat faced an uphill battle on Wednesday night, as Miami not only needed a victory of its own but also needed a loss by the Chicago Bulls or Indiana Pacers. Unfortunately for the Heat, the Pacers and Bulls won their games easily and will be the seventh and eighth seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs, respectively.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this way about a team before. I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted something more for a team,” an emotional coach Spoelstra said during his postgame press conference. “Any one of us who wanted to get into team sports, it was to be around a team like this. They went through so much together in just a few months and really got to know each other. Through everything, we’ve made each other better. It’s such an honor to be around a group like this. I wish I had something for this team to keep this thing going.”
Center Hassan Whiteside finished the game with his 58th double-double of the season as he finished with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, a whopping 18 rebounds and two blocked shots.
After he led the league in blocks per game last season, Whiteside officially clinched this year’s rebounding crown on Wednesday night with a monstrous 14.1 per game average.
With a barrage of dunks of his own throughout the night, Miami center Willie Reed came off the bench to shoot a nearly perfect 8-of-9 from the field en route to 16 points and six rebounds in just 15 minutes of action.
“We were proud of each other in that locker room,” Reed said. “How we fought back after starting 11-30. It was more than just winning those games, it was the journey and brotherhood that we’ve built along the way. I know we’re always going to be there for each other, even long after basketball.”
Heat shooting guard Josh Richardson, who was in the starting lineup for the last 13 games in Dion Waiters‘ absence, had 15 points on 3-of-6 shooting from behind the arc, while power forward James Johnson nearly notched a triple-double with 12 points, eight boards and eight assists.
The Wizards, who played without the services of John Wall and Bradley Beal, were led off the bench by point guard Trey Burke’s 27 points and four assists. Shooting guard Sheldon McClellan also had a solid game off the bench with 18 points, while center Marcin Gortat finished with 16 points and five rebounds.
To end their second half of the season, the Heat joined elite company with the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs as the only three teams to win over 30 games in their final 41 contests.