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Heat beat Wizards, but miss out on playoffs

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The Pacers and Bulls both won Wednesday, keeping Miami out of the playoffs

NBA: Washington Wizards at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat took care of business in Game 82 Wednesday night, defeating a Washington Wizards team without John Wall and Bradley Beal. Miami grabbed the lead in the second quarter and never gave it back, cruising to a 110-102 victory.

The Heat capped off a historic season turnaround, finishing 41-41 after starting the year 11-30. Miami became the first NBA team to finish the season at the .500 mark after falling to 19 games below .500. But the Heat needed some help to secure a playoff berth, and the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls both defeated teams that were also resting their starters. Miami’s 29th season thus ended Wednesday, with the remarkable roller-coaster ride having made its final stop.

Miami’s 30-11 run since Jan. 17 gave the fans a level of joy they hadn’t experienced since the Big Three era. And the season finale represented that type of fun. Goran Dragic led Miami with 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting, four rebounds and five assists. He had seven turnovers, including some head-scratching plays early in the game, but served as the efficient offensive motor he’s been for most of this season.

Hassan Whiteside added 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field, 18 rebounds and two blocks. Whiteside finished the season winning the NBA’s rebounding title after leading the league in blocks last year. In the final game of the season, Whiteside displayed the continued growth of his game. He had a nice jump-hook, a couple nice jumpers and played solid pick-and-roll defense. All these facets to his game — including making the right pass out of a double-team, an area Whiteside has made strides in — represent positive development for the center. I expect Whiteside to continue to serve as a franchise cornerstone.

But this season has always been about more than just Dragic and Whiteside, the Heat’s two highest-paid, active players (don’t forget that Chris Bosh is still on the roster). James Johnson had 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, capping off a season in which he served as a pleasant surprise and fan favorite. Willie Reed made his first eight attempts from the field — all point-blank — and finished with 16 points off the bench. Reed provided a spark for Miami during his first stretch of playing time that bridged the first and second quarters.

But most of all, this late-season run has been about heart. Miami went through some tough stretches — the offensive holes that Dion Waiters’ absence highlighted, for example — during their 30-11 run, but always played hard. At their best, the Heat played the game the right way — disciplined defense, crisp ball movement offensively and without concern for individual success. Heat fans saw that Wednesday night, and it’s why the fans gave this 2016-17 team a standing ovation.

It was only fitting that Erik Spoelstra went to his team captain, 14-year NBA veteran Udonis Haslem, in the final minute. Haslem has served as a leader behind the scenes all year long, and Heat fans applauded his arrival to the game. He got an open look at a 3-pointer, a shot that went halfway down before popping out. In some ways, it exemplified this season — consistent under-the-radar effort, but coming up just short in the end.

Regardless, one of my favorite Heat teams. Thanks for never quitting on this season and giving fans some excitement.

And now, the off-season begins. How many players will remain as members of this franchise? Will Dion Waiters and James Johnson leave for bigger paydays? Will the Heat trade Justise Winslow to continue to build their team around 3-point shooters? Heat fans will have plenty of time to think of those questions this summer. But it’s OK to savor these moments for now.