WASHINGTON (The Sports Xchange) — The Miami Heat haven’t clinched a playoff berth, but they’ve kept those hopes alive.
Considering they started this season 11-30, that qualifies as miraculous.
If the feeling possessing head coach Erik Spoelstra’s players following another win over the Washington Wizards stays, good chance more miracles remain.
Hassan Whiteside had 30 points and 12 rebounds, and James Johnson hit the go-ahead layup with 11 seconds left as the Heat helped their playoff hopes with a 106-103 win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.
Johnson had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Miami (39-41), which improved to 3-0 over Washington this season and moved into a tie with Chicago for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls own the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series 2-1.
Only two playoff slots remain available, though Miami could move all the way into sixth depending on upcoming results. That the final two games have meaning — an uncertainty after Friday’s 96-94 loss at Toronto — had Spoelstra waxing poetic.
“What do you want as a pro athlete? Do you want a life more ordinary? Really, you want to play. These guys in the locker room right now feel alive,” Spoelstra said. “You can’t pay enough money to feel like that. Regardless of what the results are — even last night. Guys were despondent walking out of there, but by the time we got on the plane guys were starting to feel stubborn about it. Above everything they feel alive. That’s beautiful.”
Markieff Morris scored 21 points for the Wizards (48-32). John Wall had 16 points in Washington’s regular-season home finale. Bradley Beal also had 16 points, but Whiteside blocked his potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
Washington, which committed 20 turnovers, fell one game behind third-place Toronto in the East.
“Nobody really got open, including myself,” Beal said of Washington’s final play. “We just didn’t execute the right way and the result was a bad one.”
The lead changed sides repeatedly in the final minutes. Wall split two free throws as the Wizards led 103-102 with 20.6 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Miami cleared out for Johnson, who dribbled from the backcourt all the way for an easy basket.
“We ran it in (before). I had nightmares about that shot I missed,” Johnson said of the isolation play. “Today was just being patient. I knew I wanted to give us a chance just in case I missed to get a second opportunity, so I went a little bit early and it worked out.”
After Washington called its own timeout, Kelly Oubre Jr. misread the defensive coverage. Josh Richardson stole the inbounds pass, leading to two free throws for the stout defender with 9.7 seconds remaining.
“It was a tough play for him,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said of Oubre, who started for the injured Otto Porter and scored 12 points. “He thought John [Wall] was going to go over the top, John came towards the ball. Unfortunate that it happened, but that’s actually a learning experience.”
Morris (sore right ankle) started after sitting out Thursday’s 106-103 win at the New York Knicks. Porter wasn’t active after developing back spasms against New York.
Richardson’s work against Wall and Beal, who committed 13 turnovers, did not go unnoticed.
“Josh Richardson saved us, simple as that,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen no one defend John Wall like that, Bradley Beal like that.”
Tyler Johnson scored 19 points and Goran Dragic had 18 for the Heat.
The teams close the regular season in Miami.
The Raptors own the head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning Washington must win its final two games and have Toronto drop its remaining games to finish third. Both teams have clinched home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. The Wizards, 2-4 over their last six games and 7-8 since Mar. 13, need more consistency in order to play longer than that.
“We have to realize that if we play like this, we’re going to get swept,” Beal exclaimed. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror and figure out what kind of team we want to be. We want to be a hot team moving into the playoffs or a complacent team that’s going to be home early.”
NOTES: Heat F Luke Babbitt (hip) missed his second game in a row. … Markelle Fultz, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, attended the game. The D.C. native averaged 23.2 points during his freshman season for the University of Washington. … Miami hosts Cleveland on Monday. The Heat lead the season series 2-1, including a 120-92 home victory on March 4. … Washington’s final two regular-season games are on the road starting with Monday’s matchup at Detroit. The Wizards and Pistons split the first two games.
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