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Wade, Heat ready for 'real thing' to start

The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- Dwyane Wade is good to go.

Besides a rather meaningless win, about the only thing of true value the Miami Heat accomplished Wednesday night was that it got Wade some extra conditioning as he works his way back after missing several games with leg injuries.

Otherwise, the Heat (66-16) played without three starters -- LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers -- and still had more than enough to win their regular-season finale, beating the Orlando Magic 105-93 at American Airlines Arena.

Wade, the Heat's one superstar who did play, led Miami with 21 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in just 24 minutes.

"He was able to get that burst in the first half and then had to fight through and get his second wind," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade. "In the second half, he just got a little bit more conditioning, quick twitch, get the timing. But everything looked good.

"He has been doing a lot of treadmill, but that's not the same as game conditioning. You can't simulate it."

The Heat, the NBA's top seed, will open the playoffs against No. 8 Eastern Conference seed Milwaukee. Miami will play its first two games at home, and those matchups are expected to be set for Sunday and Tuesday.

Wade said he was fully pleased with the Heat becoming one of just 13 teams in NBA history to win 66 or more games.

"Now we start the real thing," Wade said of the upcoming playoffs. "It was awesome to end our regular season the way we did in front of our fans. It's a testament to our team being committed."

James missed Wednesday's game to tend to unspecified personal matters, Bosh sat out to rest a minor knee injury, and Chalmers did the same with a banged-up ankle.

All are expected back for the start of the playoffs.

The Heat closed the regular season on a stunning run of 37 wins in 39 games. Miami has won eight games in a row, despite resting many of its stars for most of those games, and finished the regular season with a 37-4 home mark.

Miami also swept the season series with Orlando, 4-0. It was Miami's first sweep over Orlando since 2004-2005.

On Wednesday, the Heat also got 21 points from Mike Miller, who made 6 of 8 on 3-pointers, perhaps making a statement that he deserves postseason minutes.

Nikola Vucevic led the Magic with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but the Magic ended their season with 12 straight road losses. Their last road win was March 4 at New Orleans.

Overall, the Magic finished its season at 20-62, the worst record in the NBA.

But as bad as the Magic was this season, there is optimism for the future based on the development of young players such as Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris.

Vucevic, a second-year pro, averaged 12.4 and 11.5 rebounds over his first 68 games. Then he missed five games due to a concussion. In his final nine games, he was even better, averaging 18.5 points and 15.2 rebounds.

"He's not a fluke," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said of Vucevic. "He's done it on a consistent basis. He's improved. In the last 10 games or so, we went to him in the post a lot, and he produced."

Harkless, a 19-year-old rookie, averaged 14.7 points over his final 16 games. Harris, a second-year pro, averaged 17.4 points in the 27 games since being acquired from the Bucks.

Harkless said he improved from the start of the season to now.

"I'm just more confident and comfortable now," he said. "The game slowed down for me, and I just started playing freer."

In addition to those players, youngsters such as DeQuan Jones, 22, and Andrew Nicholson, 23, also impressed Vaughn.

"(Jones) is pretty raw but athletic and talented," Vaughn said. "Now it is up to us to hone those skills. Andrew can really score the ball. He's proven that since day one.

"I expect a lot from all our guys this offseason. We have the time. So now it's a matter of putting for the effort and getting better."

NOTES: Spoelstra on the upcoming playoffs: "Everybody is eager. We feel we have managed (giving players rest) fairly well. Once you get to the playoffs, you do whatever it takes." ... The Heat finished this season 15-1 on the second night of back-to-back games, a testament to the team's "no excuses" motto, Spoelstra said. ... Vaughn admires the job Spoelstra did with the Heat this season. "One of the toughest things to do after you win a championship is to keep those guys motivated and producing results year after year."
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