The Miami Heat defeated the Washington Wizards 110-102 on Wednesday night to complete a stunning second-half turnaround, finishing the season 41-41 following a 11-30 start. After beginning the season so poorly, contending for a playoff spot on the season’s final day represents a meaningful accomplishment for Miami. When second-year forward Justise Winslow went down for the year in early January, it didn’t feel like too much to say the season was already lost. Now they’re set to enter the offseason with optimism and meaningful progress to show free agents.
Unfortunately, that feel-good story was not enough to bring the Heat a playoff berth. The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls also won on Wednesday night, which forced the Heat into a tiebreaker with the latter for eighth place in the East. Miami lost the first two meetings in their three-game season series before the end of December, so a team everyone greatly enjoyed watching is now out of the playoffs for one that seemed to suffer from infighting every five days. The rules are the rules and the Heat didn’t exactly dominate in April, but it’s still a bummer to see them go fishin’.
No one appears to have felt that pain more than head coach Erik Spoelstra. The Coach of the Year candidate spoke to the media following Wednesday’s game and elimination, and he did not hold back the emotion. He’s going to miss this team a lot.
— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) April 13, 2017
And here’s that post-silence statement as a few blocks of text:
I don’t if I’ve ever felt this way about a team before. I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted something more for a team. Any one of us wanted to get into team sports, it was to be around a team like this. We went through so much together in just a few months and really got to know each other. And through everything we’ve made it each other better. It was such an honor to be around a group like this, you know, it really was.
I wish I had something for this team to keep this thing going. I think the hardest thing for any of us to wrap our minds around is that we don’t have practice tomorrow at 12. It just doesn’t feel right. It just doesn’t feel like the basketball gods shined down on us. I think probably our group wants to be in there as much as any team in the playoffs.
It’s just an extremely tough thing to wrap our minds around right now. This was a great group. Everything that we went through together brought it out. It was the most vulnerable group I’ve been around. It’s basketball but it really became a family. It became a group that really cared and loved each other, and we weren’t afraid to tell each other that.
It’s an affecting statement made all the more remarkable for the fact that Spoelstra went to four NBA Finals and won two championships with a group that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. For him to talk in such warm tones about a team that finished ninth in a conference full of disappointments speaks volumes about what this group must have gone through and meant to him.
An outsider is never going to understand everything about an NBA locker room, but the way the Heat banded together after a rough start and turned things around (complete with a record winning streak) was impossible not to notice given how most teams that start a season so poorly finish out the campaign. It’s all too common to see a team with a winning percentage around .250 pack it in, rest its best players, and angle for the best draft pick possible. Most players begin to look out for themselves — not out of malice, but because it takes a lot to establish a career in a league with so much turnover.
The Heat were obviously different. They only grew stronger when things were going poorly, and they deserve lots of credit for accomplishing what they did. Even one playoff win would have been a well-earned prize for this group, but it’s safe to say that the lack of a postseason appearance won’t change the value of this season. It certainly won’t for Spoelstra.
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