One year after a disastrous 15-67, injury-riddled season, the Miami Heat have clinched a spot in the NBA Playoffs for the 13th time in franchise history.
The Heat defeated the Charlotte Bobcats Friday night, 97-92, to clinch a postseason berth and put a large damper on Charlotte's hopes for their first-ever Playoff appearance.
The Heat made history with the victory, as they become only the second team in NBA history to reach the Playoffs a year after having 15 or fewer wins. They joined the 1968-69 San Diego Rockets in the elite turnaround club.
As usual, Dwyane Wade shined for the Heat. He notched a 27-point, 10-assist double-double and ensured Miami's trip back to the postseason.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for this team to come back after that season and not really make huge, huge changes," Wade said.
The Heat did have to work for this "W," however, as they came from behind. Wade led the furious comeback that began with Miami down 15 points.
The All-Star scored five straight points late in the fourth quarter to give Miami an 88-83 lead with just over three minutes left in regulation. Charlotte brought the game within one point on a Raymond Felton layup, but Wade proceeded to hit two clutch free throws to extend the lead to three.
Felton missed what would have been a game-tying long-range shot, and that forced the Bobcats to foul, sealing the game for the Heat.
Gerald Wallace led the 'Cats with 21 points and eight rebounds. Felton had a double-double with 16 points and 10 assists, and forward Emeka Okafor had 13 points and 13 boards.
The loss puts the ninth-seeded Bobcats two games behind idle Chicago for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference Playoff race.
Besides the Heat reaching their "magic number," the story of the game was the return of Miami's Daequan Cook, who finally emerged from his slump by scoring 16 points on four-of-five shooting from beyond the arc and grabbed seven rebounds.
Also, rookie Michael Beasley contributed 14 points, and newly acquired Jermaine O'Neal posted 13 points and six boards.
The win wasn't without its drawbacks, however.
The Heat suffered the loss of captain Udonis Haslem, who cut his shooting thumb while defending Gerald Wallace's layup attempt. Haslem could be shut down for the remainder of the season, but he insisted he'd be ready come the postseason.
He had a lot else to say about the game, being that he was part of last year's horrible season:
“That just says a lot about the guys that were here last year who kind of came back with a chip on their shoulders,” Haslem said. “(And) it says a lot about the young guys who followed our lead.”
The Heat made a good defensive effort, forcing 17 Bobcat turnovers. They also doubled Charlotte's free throw attemps by a count of 24 to 12.
The Heat will square off with the lowly Wizards tonight at 7 p.m. in a must-win road game. The team would like to end their three-game road trip not only to catch up to the Sixers but also to quell the worries of play away from home. They have only won four out of their last 16 away from American Airlines Arena.
“It’s a big step for our franchise, and for Pat Riley and Micky Arison,” first-year coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To put this team together after last season, it’s a big step…with that said, we don’t want to stop just with this.”