Heat-Wizards Preview

The Associated Press

The Miami Heat appear content resting their stars in preparation for whomever they might face in the first round of the playoffs.

One of the reasons they eased up in the race for the Eastern Conference's top seed is because of a home loss to the Washington Wizards over the weekend.

The Heat, who again will likely be without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, conclude the regular season Thursday night against a Wizards team in the midst of its longest winning streak in 4 1/2 years.

With a 78-66 loss at Boston on Tuesday, Miami (46-19) was guaranteed the East's No. 2 seed for the playoffs. The Heat will open the postseason against New York or Philadelphia, which are tied for seventh place with the Knicks owning the tiebreaker.

New York closes the season at Charlotte, while the 76ers are in Detroit.

While a matchup between the Heat and Celtics would usually figure to be a playoff-type atmosphere, there was nothing attractive about Tuesday's game between division winners. Boston rested Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, while Miami played without James, Wade and Bosh.

Fans were instead treated to a healthy dose of Dexter Pittman, who led the Heat with 12 points.

"We wanted to make sure going into the last week with a quick turnaround that we were ready for this weekend,'' coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We had legitimate injuries. We weren't just sitting guys.''

Bosh has missed the last five games with an apparent right hamstring injury while Wade has missed four of the last five, with the last two because of a dislocated left index finger sustained in Saturday's 86-84 loss to Washington.

Prior to that game, Miami and Chicago were in a tight race for the East's top seed and the Heat appeared to have an easier schedule down the stretch. The loss to Washington (19-46), however, coupled with a Bulls win over Dallas that same night essentially wrapped up first place for Chicago.

Wade injured his finger less than three minutes into the game, and James and Bosh were already on the bench for rest.

The Heat had defeated the Wizards 106-89 in Washington on Feb. 10 to extend their winning streak in the series to six games. Wade finished with a game-high 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting, Bosh scored 24 and James added 18 points and nine assists.

Their absences Thursday would certainly spell trouble for the Heat, whose obvious lack of depth is one of their biggest concerns heading into the playoffs. Miami's depleted lineup Tuesday finished with a season low in scoring to go with a season-worst 25 turnovers.

Facing a Washington team that is suddenly playing its best basketball, especially on the defensive end, might also pose as a problem.

The Wizards have essentially been out of the playoff picture since opening 2-15, but are determined to finish the season on a high note. They defeated Cleveland 96-85 Wednesday for their fifth straight victory, their longest winning streak since reeling off six in a row from Nov. 11-21, 2007.

"Everybody plays good and plays hard,'' John Wall said. "Nobody worries about how many points you're going to score. You can tell the whole group is having a lot more fun.''

During their winning streak, the Wizards have allowed an average of 87.6 points - 11.3 points fewer than their season mark.

Wall has also stepped up his game, finishing with 21 points, 13 assists and seven steals Wednesday. It was the fourth straight double-double for Wall, who had four in his previous 24 contests.

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