April 13, 2017

MIAMI (AP) Every team in NBA history that won at least 30 games in the second half of a season headed to the playoffs.

That is, until now.

Time will tell whether that will be a source of pride or a piece of unwanted history for the Miami Heat, who pulled off a turnaround that defied even their own expectations. They went 30-11 in the final 41 games, a perfect inverse from the 11-30 start to the season and the second-best record in the league in that span, yet wound up missing the playoffs by a game.

''By no means did we think we were a perfect team,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''But we thought that we had the energy and momentum going in the right direction - that we would find a way.''

They almost did.

After losing Dwyane Wade in free agency and losing Chris Bosh in September after a failed physical, they knew this would be a season of major challenges. Injuries only made the situation more daunting, and the roster at the end of this season had seven players who weren't in Miami a year earlier. Yet when they gathered earlier this week for the final team photo, Hassan Whiteside interrupted the hijinks with a heartfelt message.

He told his teammates they started as strangers, then became friends, then a family.

''This is one of my favorite teams that I have been a part of,'' point guard Goran Dragic said. ''I would go to battle with those guys any day. They can call me anytime.''

The Heat believe they have the core of what will be a contender for big things next season, though they know that the team that gathered for one final huddle in the locker room on Wednesday night when their playoff fate was sealed will not be together when training camp starts in the fall.

Josh Richardson said when he was in college, he didn't think wins and losses mattered to NBA players.

He's learned differently now.

''Before I got in, I didn't know guys really cared about it that much,'' Richardson said in an extremely somber locker room ''I didn't know that it meant that much. I thought they were just happy they were rich. Seeing it now, seeing it last year, it's a lot deeper than basketball.''

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Here's some of what to know going into the Heat offseason:

BOSH FUTURE: Chris Bosh spent the entire season on Miami's roster, and now the Heat will decide whether to waive him or try to trade him. It's not even clear if Bosh will be able to play again. When next season starts, he'll be 20 months removed from his most recent NBA game after his struggles to come back after bouts with blood clots. But this much is certain: His $25.3 million cap space will be occupied by others in Miami next season.

WHITESIDE STATS: Heat center Hassan Whiteside led the NBA in blocked shots last season, and got this year's rebounding title. Since the NBA started recording blocks in 1973, only seven other players - Dwight Howard, Ben Wallace, Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson and Bill Walton - won league crowns in both categories.

FREE AGENCY: The big decisions will be regarding guard Dion Waiters and forward James Johnson, both of whom had big first seasons with the Heat and will be seeking big paydays this summer. Backup center Willie Reed is in a similar spot, and the Heat hold an option on guard Wayne Ellington that figures to be picked up. Bosh's cap space gives Miami plenty of other options, such as trades. Keeping Udonis Haslem seems critical, if only for his leadership role.

DRAFT WATCH: Barring a trade, Miami will make a lottery-level draft pick for just the fifth time in the last 20 years. The Heat will almost certainly emerge from the May 16 draft lottery with the No. 14 selection - there's about a 1 percent chance of the pingpong balls falling in a way to get Miami up to a top-three pick.

BOUNCEBACK FACTOR: The Heat will make the playoffs next season. (At least, that's what history says.) Miami hasn't missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2002 and 2003. This was the 19th time in Miami's 29 seasons that the Heat finished with a record of .500 or better, and the first time that wasn't good enough to reach the postseason.

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