MIAMI – One year ago, the Heat entered the final day of the regular season hoping they could somehow find an avenue into the postseason but knowing the chances were remote at best.
That feeling is much different as Miami prepares to host Toronto on Wednesday (8 p.m.) in its regular-season finale.
The Heat have known for more than a week their spot in the postseason was secure. The only unknown is where they will finish and who they will play.
“It definitely doesn’t feel like it did last season,” guard Wayne Ellington said. “A little more relaxed, obviously, that we clinched but at the same time understand that you want to go into the playoffs with some momentum.
“You can’t really relax but at the same time you do have a better feeling knowing that you do have the postseason to look forward to.”
The Heat had reservations at four different hotels and 10 practice facilities for this weekend entering Tuesday’s games.
And although Tuesday’s results could have narrowed that some, Miami enters the final day of the regular season with its playoff picture still very much unsettled.
With the postseason starting either Saturday or Sunday, the Heat (43-38) are No. 7 in the East, one game behind Milwaukee. They still could finish anywhere from No. 6 to No. 8, pending the Wizards-Celtics outcome Tuesday. If Boston won, the Heat are assured finishing no lower than No. 7.
As for their opponent: Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland were on the board entering Tuesday. Cleveland and Toronto could have been eliminated pending Tuesday’s results.
“I’ve been to 13 playoffs now coming up,” Dwyane Wade said. “I’ve seen so many different scenarios and so many things happen at the last minute you just never know.
“It doesn’t matter. We’re in the playoffs, whoever we play, we play, man.”
The Heat, though, are coming off their worst combined losses of the season, by 24 points at New York on Saturday and by 22 at home Monday to Oklahoma City.
And no matter the results of the four games since the Heat clinched a playoff spot April 3 (Miami is 1-2 so far), this weekend starts a new season.
Justise Winslow, though, said on Monday he has not heard much chatter about the playoffs.
“We’re still trying to win every game,” Winslow said. “We haven’t shifted our focus to the playoffs, yet. We were focused on (OKC). I know that for a fact. Guys weren’t talking about the weekend or anything. We were focused on trying to keep that sixth seed and win out.”
The games were meaningful in that Miami would like to finish No, 6 which it can secure Wednesday by beating Toronto and Milwaukee losing at Philadelphia.
With Boston locked into the No. 2 seed and Philadelphia controlling its destiny for the No. 3 seed, the preferred spots would be No. 6 and possibly facing the Sixers who could be without All-Star center Joel Embiid; or No. 7 and facing Boston who will be without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart.
“You start getting caught up in all that kind of stuff I think you start being worried about the wrong stuff,” Ellington said. “Just go out there and play and whoever’s front of us we go out there and we beat them.”
As for who will be on the floor for Toronto and Miami on Wednesday, the Raptors could opt to rest their stars. Kyle Lowry played 26 minutes and DeMar DeRozan logged 28 in their win at Detroit Monday, while Serge Ibaka had the night off.
And Erik Spoelstra could do the same, especially with Josh Richardson and James Johnson both getting dinged up Monday. Richardson banged knees and Johnson was poked in the eye. Neither came out of the game and neither are on the Heat’s injury report.
Additionally, Wade (elbow, wrist), Goran Dragic (knee, ankle) and James Johnson (ankle) all sat out one game last week.
“I think where we’re at now is positive,” James Johnson said. “We’re sharpening and getting better in the little details, being able to run the show and not look at coach and being in our responsibilities when we’re blitzing and who we’re blitzing. We’re working on a lot of things to avoid those mistakes in the playoffs.”