Heat determined to close out strong despite slim hopes for playoffs

MIAMI — The Miami Heat are on the brink of missing out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season after their 107-104 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday.

With just two games remaining, the Heat are now three games back in the loss column behind the Brooklyn Nets, who own the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

Though the Heat face the lottery-bound Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers to close the season, the results may not even matter by Sunday’s closing of the NBA schedule with the Nets and the Boston Celtics playing for the chance to clinch playoff berths.

Entering an all-or-nothing month of April that still offered hope of a late-season push to the playoffs, the Heat instead have lost five of the six games this month and nine of 12 overall.

From the players to coach Erik Spoelstra to team president Pat Riley, the mantra throughout this difficult season was to keep fighting back against the injuries, medical conditions, late-game collapses and bad luck. At some point, things could start going the Heat’s way. It even looked promising for the Heat when Riley managed to acquire point guard Goran Dragic in a February trade deadline deal. Then the news of Chris Bosh’s season-ending diagnosis of blood clots on his lungs broke the very same day.

That’s the way it’s gone for the Heat. LeBron James’ departure for the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer was simply the beginning.

After another winnable game slipped through their hands Saturday, all Dwyane Wade could do was resign himself to what will likely be just his second professional season without a postseason berth. The bitter pill is even harder to swallow after four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals that included back-to-back championships.

"It’s disappointment," he said of the season. "Anger isn’t going to do anything for you. You can be disappointed, but at the same time, injuries are a part of the game. It’s not always who’s the most talented team, but who can stay the healthiest. We weren’t able to do that this year. We lost some games that hurt us. There are going to be games that we think about, that if the chips don’t fall for us these last two games, where we had opportunities."

Heat vs. Raptors

The games the Heat will look back on when they likely clear their lockers at the close of the regular season will include their one-point losses to the Milwaukee Bucks on March 25 and to the Detroit Pistons last week after squandering big leads in the second half.

Or maybe they’ll think of their home loss to the last-place Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 24 in which they owned a 23-point lead midway through the third quarter.

Had they held on to their double-digit leads to win those games, the Heat would be in a much different position. Instead, they are on the outside looking in during this playoff race behind four sub-.500 teams in the standings.

"Nobody needs to feel sorry for any of us," Spoelstra said. "This is what you sign up for in this business. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You sign up for the competition. You sign up for the opportunity to build a team. This year has had its challenges for all of us, but we’ve been grinding and fighting and figuring things out. You always gain something from competition and seasons like this."

With little left to play for should the Celtics and Nets win Sunday, Spoelstra said the team will forge ahead and put forth their best effort to close out the season.

"We pride ourselves in getting our team to play its best basketball with the most continuity, regardless of what is going on," he said. "We have to show up tomorrow and do what this group has been so great about. They’ve been professional and not feeling sorry for themselves, not thinking about all the other things we can’t control."

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com.