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Heat win finale, but lose out on playoff dreams

Not a playoff team. But also not losers.

That, ultimately, is the takeaway for a Miami Heat team that fell to 11-30 at midseason and ended at 41-41 with Wednesday night's season-ending 110-102 victory over the Washington Wizards at AmericanAirlines Arena.

No team has ever come from such depths to finish a season at .500 or better.

"Any point during the season," coach Erik Spoelstra said, "you would have thought that would have been good enough to get in the playoffs."

Instead, this is all there is from the group that helped resurrect hope after an offseason that saw franchise mainstay Dwyane Wade depart to the Chicago Bulls.

Ultimately, it is Wade's Bulls who sent the Heat packing, with both teams closing at 41-41, but Chicago holding the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series 2-1.

"I don't know if I've ever felt this way about a team this way before," Spoelstra said after a long, emotional pause. "I don't know if I ever wanted something more for a team. None of us are handling it well right now.

"This feels like a loss in the Finals. The way we've been going the last three months that's how emotional it is in the locker room."

The tears flowing, many players too emotional to talk.

"I love this team so much," backup center Willie Reed welled up.

The Heat needed not only a victory Wednesday, but either a loss by the Bulls or Indiana Pacers.

Instead, against opponents approaching closing night with utter indifference, the Pacers pushed past the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks and the Bulls battered the long-eliminated Brooklyn Nets, with Atlanta and Brooklyn effectively holding out entire starting units.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went in practically acknowledging the inevitable, saying,

"I hope we get a standing ovation for our players at the end."

They did. And then it was the end of a second playoff-less season in the three since LeBron James departed back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, after advancing within one victory of the Eastern Conference finals last season.

It could, ultimately, also be the final applause for a group that recovered from the realm of irrelevance to joining the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors as the only teams to win 30 or more games over the second half of the schedule.

Many on the roster are impending or potential free agents, including James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Luke Babbitt and Reed.

"It's just an extremely tough thing to wrap our minds around right now," Spoelstra said.

Even with the Heat's eventual bid to clear Chris Bosh's salary-cap space, there likely won't be enough money left to upgrade or even retain this feisty group.

Instead, the Heat will have a 0.5-percent chance of landing the top pick in next month's NBA draft lottery, and a 1.8-percent chance of one of the first three picks, otherwise to select at No. 14. The Heat will be left with five entries among the 250 possible winning lottery combinations.

"We believe in magic," Spoelstra said of what he expected to be a playoff berth. "We believe in karma. We believe in those things you can't define."

It ended with Heat center Hassan Whiteside closing with his 58th double-double of the season, with 24 points and 18 rebounds, with guard Goran Dragic adding 29 and backup center Reed 16. It even included a late cameo for Udonis Haslem, his first action since Feb. 4.

It also ended with Waiters, Babbitt and Josh McRoberts watching from the bench, too injured to contribute, in a season of injuries that included Bosh's absence since failing a preseason physical.

Both teams played with altered starting lineups, although the Heat not by choice.

With Waiters and Babbitt again out, the Heat again starting Josh Richardson at shooting guard and James Johnson at power forward.

The Wizards, with a weekend playoff opener against the Hawks as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, played it safe, holding out guards Bradley Beal and John Wall, as well as forward Markieff Morris. That left Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat as the only regulars in their starting lineup, joined this time by forward Tomas Satoransky and guards Brandon Jennings and Kelly Oubre Jr.

The Wizards then held out Porter in the second half, opening the third period with former University of Miami standout Sheldon McClellan.

The Heat pushed to a 14-point lead in the third period and went into the fourth up 91-77.

The Heat scored 33 points in the second period to move to a 56-50 halftime lead, after taking an 11-point lead late in the second period.

Whiteside by then had reached his 58th double-double of the season, having already broken Rony Seikaly's franchise record of 53. It also gave Whiteside 24 consecutive games scoring in double figures to end the season.

The Heat came out flat, trailing 27-23 going into the second period, after falling behind by six in the opening, yet to take a lead. Gortat scored 10 in the first quarter for the Wizards, with Dragic with eight points for the Heat.

"It feels like we could do some damage in the postseason," Spoelstra said. "It feels like we could be playing for a while."

Only they won't. Because at 41-41, they're done.

The Heat ended the season with 18 victories in their final 22 home games, after standing 5-13 at home after a New Year's night loss to the Pistons.

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