MIAMI – As Dwyane Wade sat on the training table while the Heat’s doctor popped his finger back into place, there were two things going through his mind.
“Worst case scenario was surgery,” Wade said as he lifted up his splinted left index finger. “Best case scenario was this. I got best case scenario and I still get to play basketball.”
When Wade later got the news that the X-rays on the finger that he jammed in the jersey of Wizards guard Jordan Crawford just three minutes into Saturday’s game were negative, he wasn’t thinking about how it impacted the Heat’s playoff seed. He was just happy he’d be seeing the playoffs.
“It’ll be sore for a couple days and I’ll take a much-needed rest,” Wade said. “But I’ll be ready to go in the playoffs for sure.”
That is the team’s general feeling after an 86-84 loss to the Wizards. It was a costly defeat because, when combined with the Bulls’ win over the Mavericks, the Heat’s chances of getting the No. 1 seed in the playoffs were all but eliminated. The Bulls’ magic number to clinch it is down to one.
Home-court advantage is a valuable commodity; it’s a desired asset in every sport. But with a series of decisions the team made over the last few days it’s clear the Heat have put that priority behind getting players rest and focusing on health. Even after their victory over the Bulls had re-opened the door.
It was hard to let go, though. With Wade in the X-ray room LeBron James was on his own training table getting his ankles taped and stretching. He’d been given the night off, a decision that was overdue, and he didn’t take part in the morning’s shootaround or in pregame warmups.
But with Chris Bosh on the inactive list nursing an injury the Heat are masking by calling it a “minor ailment,” James was sill thinking about that No. 1 seed. He was on the active list and in uniform and the Heat were falling behind a Wizards team they felt they probably could’ve beaten with at least one of their three All-Stars on the floor.
So when James bolted out to the bench there was a cheer from the crowd and a smile across the floor from team owner Micky Arison, who excitedly tweeted, “He’s back.” It’s instinct to want to win, especially when something valuable is on the line. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra even got caught up in it for a moment.
“Of course I thought about it, I’m human,” Spoelstra said. “But we quickly got on the same page.”
James had had only had one game off all season. He’s in the top five in the league in minutes played. Recently he’s been dealing with minor injuries to his finger and ankle. He battled cramps in the final minutes of the Heat’s win over the Bulls on Thursday, Spoelstra saying that the trainers determined James was significantly dehydrated after the game.
The prudent move was to rest James. It was probably even more prudent to start resting him a week ago. It’s more prudent still to rest him for a game or two more before the playoffs start next weekend.
And that is what Spoelstra did even as the Mavericks briefly took the lead on the Bulls and the scent of the top seed was in the air. James stayed on the bench. The Heat battled -- Mike Miller had 16 points off the bench and Udonis Haslem had a season-high 15 rebounds -- but came up short.
Nene executed a perfect pick-and-roll with John Wall for the winning basket with less than a second left. It was the last of the nine assists Wall had in the fourth quarter and the last of Nene’s eight points down the stretch.
Moments later the Bulls went on a run in Chicago and finished off the Mavericks and then it was done. The Heat are all but certain to be the No. 2 seed when the playoffs start. The same seed they had last season when they won the conference. And on the opposite side of the bracket as the dangerous Celtics.
“We’re in second place, that’s not a bad place to be in,” Wade said. “We’ll go into the playoffs and take it series by series.”