Even though there was still a chance to finish first in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat have decided to opt out of the race for it by resting LeBron James and Chris Bosh in a 114-93 loss to the Washington Wizards, with Dwyane Wade getting a few minutes to get himself in playing shape for the upcoming postseason.
There are also those who suggest that it’s more than just resting starters. Finishing first in the East means playing the #8 seed in the first round and the #4/#5 seed in the conference semifinals. The Heat lost four times this season to the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets will be in that #4 vs #5 series. You do the math. The Miami Heat did, and maybe they’ve decided that home court advantage isn’t worth fighting for when compared with rest and getting a more favorable road to the conference finals.
And a team they are likely to meet in one of the first two rounds are the Washington Wizards. Right now, the Wizards are 6th in the East but one more loss and another win for the Charlotte Bobcats will turn the tables and give the Bobcats the sixth spot, and put Miami and Washington together for the first round series. The Wizards have beaten the Heat twice this season, in both wins scoring 114 points and winning by double digits.
The Wizards have also dealt Miami its three largest deficits at any point in a game since the Big 3 got together. The Wizards’ 36-point lead today topped their 34-point lead against the Heat earlier this season. Their biggest was a 38-point lead over the Heat back in 2011-12 season. They didn’t even need a big game from their starters in order to have another easy one against Miami, who had Wade playing for 18 minutes and were led by Michael Beasley scoring 18 points off the bench.
Trevor Ariza had a big game for the Wizards with 25 points including five 3-pointers. Nene Hilario, making his way back from injury, had 18 points in only 24 minutes as the Heat started with Udonis Haslem as their biggest player and guys like Justin Hamilton getting significant minutes off the bench. Marcin Gortat had a double double in only 23 minutes with 10 points and 13 rebounds. John Wall was hardly a factor, scoring only 4 points, focusing on passing and finishing with 13 assists.
In the East, aside from the Heat and the Pacers it’s hard to talk about any team as actual favorites in the opening series, and Washington, despite being a lower seed without home court advantage, shouldn’t be considered as a team unlikely to stay on for more than just one round, if they do finish sixth in the East. The Miami Heat have other goals and expectations, but also enter the postseason with less things to be confident about than in previous years. If there was ever a time to give key players some rest and hope for an ability to turn on the switch, it is the 2014 NBA playoffs, with the NBA champions looking more vulnerable than ever before.