There were some bumps along the way, but the Heat feel they accomplished their goals in the regular season.
TORONTO -- The Heat are declaring their regular season a success, and they really don’t care what anyone thinks about that opinion.
Not the bumps, not the tears nor the boos.
As they hit the finish line of their first 82 games together, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh all sat out Wednesday night’s regular-season finale against the Raptors. That act alone sent a clear message: Mission accomplished.
The Heat open the playoffs by hosting the 76ers on Saturday as the East’s No. 2 seed and ended the season with the third-best record in the league. No, it did not meet the dreamy expectations some had for the Heat’s first foray. But the team has no regrets.
“When you’ve got people coming out saying, 'Oh, this team is going to win 72 games,' you look at them and say, 'Why do they have a microphone?'" Wade said Wednesday, referring to Jeff Van Gundy’s preseason pick for the team.
As Wade said it, James walked by and echoed the sentiment by apparently attempting to mock Van Gundy’s voice. As it turned out, the final win tally was 58 after the 97-79 win over the Raptors behind a career-high 35 points from Eddie House. The Heat ended up three victories short of the team’s all-time record, although that probably will be forgotten.
The Heat will judge their season on the playoffs, and they feel they arrive at the postseason playing with as much precision and confidence as they have for the past six months. As for their record and their seed, they’re quite proud of that, too.
“To see where we end up, it is a testament to us sticking together,” Wade said. “No matter who we did beat or who we didn’t beat, we’re going into the playoffs as one of the teams that can compete for a championship. You go through a season like we did so you can be one of those teams.”
At one point, nearly a quarter of the way in, the Heat were in third place in their own division. They also were predominantly a jump shooting team that struggled for consistency on defense. In the end, the Heat proved to be the only team in the league to finish in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Meanwhile, they’ve been more of the most effective teams at scoring in the paint since the All-Star break.
For their struggles against teams such as the Celtics and the Bulls -- they were 1-6 against them -- there were successes. They swept the Lakers and recently pounded the Spurs and Celtics. They finished the season with the second-best road record in the league.
“We accomplished what I think we wanted to in the regular season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“We built a game that is ready for the playoffs. We demanded and built a philosophy on the defensive side of the floor, and we built up those habits. We had to go through some pain on offense but we’ve come a long way. I know guys are feeling very comfortable. In terms of getting what we needed out of the regular season, it was eventful for us. One of the most important things we didn’t do was not get caught up in the day-to-day panic. When the dust settled, we finished second in the East and third best in the league. Considering everything, that’s a positive.”
Some of the so-called “panic” was self-inflicted, and some of it wasn’t. But the Heat are long past stressing over it. Forget that they were so concerned with outside opinion and influence that they psyched themselves out by holing up on a military base for training camp. Meanwhile, many casual NBA fans appeared to revel in the Heat’s struggles, something the team was quite aware of.
All that, though, was buried in the mounds of wood the Heat feel they chopped this season. Combined with their developed on-court game, they feel they've bolstered their résumé for the elimination games ahead.
Wednesday night, as James sat on the bench in uniform and on ice, the fans at the Air Canada Centre started chanting, “We want LeBron.”
James smiled, stood up and turned toward the scorer’s table, only to wheel back into his seat. The Raptors' fans, once one of the more hostile groups that jeered the Heat mightily on their first trip to town as Bosh made his return, mostly laughed at James’ gesture.
It has been a long, strange season and one the Heat seem comfortable in at the most important time.
“Being under the microscope for 82 games is something else,” Bosh said. “But what used to bother you doesn’t bother you anymore. It takes a lot to bother us now.”