Miami Heat: A team ‘everybody was kicking dirt on’ to one with playoff hopes going into game No. 82

Miami’s Josh Richardson shooting over Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan in last year’s playoffs. The Heat are hopeful the playoffs will return to AmericanAirlines Arena next week. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

MIAMI – Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra caught himself.

“This is like our Game 7,” he said, before adding, “I know it doesn’t control everything.”

The Heat (40-41) aren’t guaranteed their season continues if they survived Wednesday’s 8 p.m. season-finale against the Washington Wizards at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami needs help.

But just being in this situation three months ago, frankly, was a pipe dream.

The Heat were in 11-30, owners of the second worst record in the NBA in mid-January, and their fans were starting to calculate the odds of winning the draft lottery, not getting into the playoffs.

Now, Miami is the combination of one win over the Wizards and a loss by either Chicago or Indiana away from becoming the first team in league history to make the playoffs after being 19-games under .500.

“It makes that much more special knowing everybody was kicking dirt on us two months ago,” guard Tyler Johnson said.

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The Heat first must take care of their business against a team they are 3-0 against this season. Washington (49-32) is locked into the No. 4 seed in the East and is expected to rest key players, including possibly its All-Star backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall.

Then, Miami needs one more result to swing in its favor. The Heat are tied with Chicago for the eighth-best record in the conference and one game behind Indiana. But because the Bulls won the season series, 2-1, Chicago holds the eighth, and final, playoff spot and Miami is No. 9.

And with Miami owning the tie-breaker over Indiana, the Heat are in essence one game behind both teams.

So, if either loses and the Heat win, Miami is in. If both teams fall and the Heat win, Miami moves up to the No. 7 seed.

Both, though, are at home and both are heavily favored. The Bulls play the worst team in the league, Brooklyn, but the Heat can take some solace in the fact that the Nets defeated Chicago Saturday in Brooklyn. The Pacers host Atlanta, which will be coming off a back-to-back and could be resting many of its key players.

All of which means the Heat could walk off the court with a bitter-sweet win.

“We would be happy with the victory but if we don’t make the playoffs we would be sad, of course,” guard Goran Dragic said. “Everything we’ve worked for is to make the playoffs. First, we need to take care of business and hopefully with God’s luck Chicago or Indiana, they lose a game.”

Still, the Heat will take their chances considering where they came from.

“More than a third of the league is not playing for something right now,” Spoelstra said. “Either they’re out of the playoffs or they’ve already been positioned and know where they are. I think that’s what everybody always dreams what this league and competition would be about. … Every game would have significance.”

Even without making the playoffs the Heat can claim their small piece of history.

With a win, Miami will become the first team in league history to go from 19 under to finish the season at .500.

In fact, no team has ever been as many as 13 under and been able to scramble back to finish at least .500. Five teams have rebounded from 12 games under to finish with winning records, the last being the 2004-05 Nets who went from 12-24 to 42-40.

“It wasn’t a goal that we set out to maintain,” Johnson said. “Once we got to that point we weren’t saying ‘Let’s get back to .500.’ But it’s definitely something to look back at and see how far we’ve come.”

Of course, .500 would be even sweeter if a playoff seed were attached to that record.

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