MIAMI (AP) — Goran Dragic’s eyes were red long after the final buzzer. Willie Reed sat at his locker, overcome by emotion. Some players shed tears. Others yelled in frustration.
The Miami Heat won.
The season ended anyway.
The NBA’s turnaround story of the season ended without a trip to the playoffs. The Heat beat the Washington Wizards 110-102 on Wednesday night, but finished No. 9 in the Eastern Conference after Chicago and Indiana won to grab the last two remaining postseason spots.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted something more for a team,” an emotional Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When any one of us wanted to get into team sports, it was to be around a team like this. … The hardest thing for any of us to wrap our minds around is that we don’t have practice tomorrow at 12. It just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like the basketball gods shined down on us.”
They went 11-30 in the first 41 games, second-worst in the league.
They went 30-11 in the final 41 games, second-best in the league.
They’ll be going nowhere else. They finished at 41-41, their first time at .500 since starting 2-2. Dragic said it was the worst feeling he had after a game since his homeland of Slovenia lost while hosting the European championship quarterfinals in 2013.
That was for country. This was for a team that has been together for seven months.
“If we had made the playoffs, we would have been a really tough opponent for any team,” Dragic said.
He led Miami with 28 points, Hassan Whiteside scored 24 points and clinched the NBA rebound crown with 18 boards, Reed scored 16, Josh Richardson had 15 and James Johnson finished with 12 for the Heat.
Trey Burke scored 27 for Washington, while Sheldon McClellan had 18, Marcin Gortat added 16 and Otto Porter Jr. finished with 11.
The Wizards played without starters John Wall, Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris, all resting up for Game 1 of their first-round series against Atlanta this weekend.
“We lost tonight but we showed some good flashes out there,” Burke said. “Everybody’s excited about the series coming up.”
Washington started the season 2-8, and ended up with the No. 4 seed in the East.
“We have a team that plays hard, just like Miami,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “They have a team that they can be proud of every night. You’re not going to win every night, but you’re going to leave everything on the floor every night. And we’ve done the same thing. We didn’t have the good start, but we stayed together.”
The Heat became the first team in NBA history to be 19 games under .500 and wind up winning 41 games. But the next result of note for Miami will come at the May 16 draft lottery.
“Through the good times and the bad times, this group never forgot to have fun,” Heat captain Udonis Haslem said. “We always enjoyed coming to work every day. We always enjoyed coming to work every day. We always enjoyed competing. We always enjoyed getting better. We even enjoyed the ride.”
Wizards: Even with the loss, Washington (49-33) posted the sixth-best regular season in the franchise’s 56-year history. … Marcin Gortat started all 82 games this season. … McClellan’s college coach — Miami’s Jim Larranaga — was courtside. … Larranaga was three seats from Floyd Mayweather, and tennis legend Martina Navratilova was also in attendance.
Heat: Miami went 4-0 against Washington and 16-14 against East playoff-bound teams. … Whiteside got his 58th double-double, extending his franchise single-season record. … Dion Waiters (ankle) missed his 13th straight game. The Heat were 27-19 with him, 14-22 without him this season. … Miami didn’t lead until the midpoint of the second quarter, then stayed ahead the rest of the way.
The Heat are the first team since the 2007-08 Portland Trail Blazers to win 13 or more consecutive games and not make the playoffs. The previous 16 teams with such a streak all reached the postseason. Eerie similarities: Both those Blazers and this Heat team finished 41-41, and both had Josh McRoberts on the roster.
Washington went 3-1 against Atlanta this season. But a reason for concern: Wall has shot under 50 percent in each of his past 11 games versus the Hawks.
Spoelstra had a great line when asked how the Heat overcame the 11-30 start. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” he said.