(AP) — Miami’s playoff hopes are gone. And in an ironic twist, it was Indiana that delivered the knockout punch.
The Eastern Conference representative in each of the last four NBA Finals, and champions in two of those years, the Heat will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Indiana’s 99-95 win over Washington on Tuesday night eliminated the Heat — who ended the Pacers’ season in each of the last three playoffs.
"Guys came together and tried to accomplish a goal," guard Dwyane Wade said Monday night, when a sliver of postseason hope remained. "Whether we make that goal or fall short of that goal, it takes nothing away from each individual in here and what they came together to do."
Miami (36-45) ends the season at Philadelphia (18-63) on Wednesday night. The Heat are the first team to make the finals one year and miss the playoffs the next since the Los Angeles Lakers, who lost the championship series in 2004 and went 34-48 the following season.
So now, the lottery matters again to Miami. If the Heat lose Wednesday, they are assured of finishing the season with the league’s 10th-worst record, a critical point. If Miami owns the No. 10 pick or better after the draft lottery, the Heat keep that selection. If Miami’s pick falls to No. 11 or worse, it goes to Philadelphia.
Even if Washington had won Tuesday, Miami still faced an uphill battle. Not only would it have needed a win on Wednesday, but it also would have needed Orlando to beat Brooklyn and Memphis to defeat Indiana.
"This team never stopped fighting," forward Udonis Haslem said.
From the outset, it was clear this would not be the same sort of Heat team that Miami enjoyed over the past four seasons.
LeBron James left Miami to return to Cleveland in July. And four other key players from last season’s team also were gone before camp, with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis seeing their Heat tenures end in the summer, James Jones opting to join James in Cleveland and Shane Battier calling it a career.
Then came a slew of health issues – most notably, Chris Bosh’s season-ending blood clots in February and Josh McRoberts’ season-ending knee injury in December – forced the Heat to tie a team record with 30 different starting lineups.
Somehow, they stayed in the mix until the season’s next-to-last night.
"Guys have been true to their commitment, to the purity, to the effort," coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday night. "We haven’t necessarily gotten the results that we always wanted and sometimes there’s been some disappointment with games where we haven’t played well."
When the Lakers went from finals to also-rans, it came after they sent Shaquille O’Neal to Miami. When the Chicago Bulls went from three-time reigning champions to putrid in the 1998-99 season, it came after they lost Michael Jordan. And now the Heat have followed the same fate, losing a transcendent player like James and seeing their fortunes take a predictable tumble.
It’s just the second time in the 12-year careers of Wade and his fellow co-captain Haslem that Miami will miss the playoffs. It’s also the first time since Spoelstra replaced Pat Riley as head coach seven seasons ago that the Heat aren’t postseason-bound.
"I’ll tell you what," Spoelstra said. "For the most part, this group has brought it."
The 76ers have dropped nine in a row and another defeat would provide some symmetry, as Philadelphia opened 2014-15 with 17 consecutive losses.
The 76ers can match last season’s record with a victory, while a loss would give them their worst mark since going 18-64 in 1995-96.
Former Sixer Michael Carter-Williams scored 30 points to lift Milwaukee to a 107-97 win Monday in his first game back in Philadelphia since being dealt to the Bucks in a three-way trade Feb. 19.
Philadelphia shot 56.4 percent and went 6 for 15 from 3-point range in the first half to lead by six at the break, but finished with 29 turnovers that Milwaukee converted into 47 points.
The Heat have alternated wins and losses in the past six matchups with the 76ers, winning the most recent one 119-108 at home Feb. 23.