Heat Check: Miami ends season with loss, will face Bobcats in first round

MIAMI — It took the entire 82-game regular season for the Miami Heat to find out they’ll begin pursuit of an NBA championship three-peat against the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Heat, who lost to Philadelphia 100-87 on Wednesday night, will begin the postseason at home against Charlotte on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. It’ll be Game 1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first round.

"They deserve the respect of how they’ve played the last six weeks," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Charlotte. "They’ve been one of the better teams in the league, certainly in the Eastern Conference.

"They defend and give themselves a chance every night."

Charlotte beat Chicago in overtime on Wednesday night, but Washington’s win at Boston gave the Wizards the fifth seed and the Bobcats the seventh seed.

Playoff schedule

Miami (54-28) won all four regular-season meetings with Charlotte. The last game was a 17-point Heat victory in which LeBron James scored a career-high 61 points on March 3; the Heat have not lost to Charlotte since James joined the team.

The Heat, however, limped to the finish line by going 11-14 since March 4.

The first-round series victor will play the winner of No. 3 Toronto-No. 6 Brooklyn. Miami swept four games from the Raptors but lost all four games against the Nets this season.

"We’ll be tested, and our guys understand that," Spoelstra said of the playoff challenge. "We embrace that competition.

"When you get into this second season, you have no idea what’s going to happen. That fierce competition either brings out the best in you or it brings out something else."

Dwyane Wade started his third straight game after missing nine straight due to a sore hamstring. He finished with 16 points and four assists in 23 minutes in the season finale.

"This was a good three games for me. It was better than going to the playoffs without playing," Wade said. "I’m glad I was able to get a few games in with different styles."

Heat vs. 76ers

Wade shot down the notion he and James needed to get accustomed to playing together again.

"I’m not worried about continuity at all," he said. "The biggest thing is we know we know what we need to do, we just have to do it.

"We’ve played together for four years — that’s enough continuity right there."

James, Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers all did not play against the Sixers in an attempt to rest them in preparation for the playoffs.

Wade, Toney Douglas, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and James Jones formed Miami’s 21st different starting lineup this season.

Center Greg Oden, who missed the previous 11 games due to back issues and then a stomach virus, returned. He had two points and five rebounds in 14 minutes.

"I actually was a little bit surprised and encouraged," Spoelstra said. "That is what (Oden) was building toward right before he got hurt."

Battier played 39:49 to reach the 30,000-minute milestone for his career. Battier plans to retire after the postseason.

"It makes me smile when I think about it," Battier said. "Thinking about my career, and if you would have told me when I was a little boy, ‘One day you’re going to play 30,000 regular-season NBA minutes,’ I’d say ‘Get out of here.’ "

THE TURNING OUT

It occurred before the game, when the Heat decided to rest James, Bosh, Birdman, Chalmers and Rashard Lewis.

THE TURNING POINT

Reserve shooting guard Elliott Williams scored six straight points to turn a two-point Philly edge into a 67-59 cushion with 6:47 left in the third quarter. The Sixers continued to build its cushion and led 84-66 after three quarters.

STAT OF THE GAME

Miami committed 22 turnovers. Even with the absent players, that total is too high.

WHAT’S NEXT

The playoffs begin 3:30 p.m. Sunday when the Heat play Charlotte in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round at AmericanAirlines Arena.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.