MIAMI - The Big Three was down to the Big Zero on Saturday night.
But don't fret, Miami Heat backers, it's not as bad as it might sound. Yes, the No. 1 seed in the East is all but gone after the undermanned Heat lost 84-82 to lowly Washington at AmericanAirlines Arena. But nobody is seriously hurt on the team, namely Dwyane Wade.
The Heat began the night not planning to use LeBron James, who was rested, and Chris Bosh, who has nagging injuries. But three minutes into the game, Wade caught his finger in the jersey of Wizards guard Jordan Crawford, and was in severe pain.
Wade left the game, and was soon ruled done for the evening with a dislocated finger. But X-rays were negative, and Wade was about as pleased as he could have been.
"I'm not going to cry about it," Wade said. "When I was sitting on the table before they could put it back in, worst-case scenario was surgery and best-case scenario was this. So I got the best-case scenario and I still get to play basketball. Obviously, it will be sore for a couple of days and I'll take as much rest as I need and I'll be ready when the playoffs start for sure."
That will be next Saturday or Sunday. As for the final three regular-season games, which now are relatively meaningless after Chicago beat Dallas on Saturday to all but wrap up the No. 1 seed, Wade couldn't say if he'll play in any of those.
As for James, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he was dehydrated and very sore after Thursday's 83-72 win over the Bulls, and the decision was made to hold him out. But it looked as if that might have changed shortly after Wade's injury.
James, who had not been made inactive but was not prepared to play in the game after not taking part in the morning shootaround, then went back to the locker room to get taped. When he returned, fans sensed he was going to play.
"It was overzealous," Spoelstra said of James coming back in that manner. "But we quickly got on the same page about it."
Spoelstra said he had never planned to play James. But he did admit it crossed his mind to change up and insert No. 6.
"Of course, it did," Spoelstra said. "I'm human."
It's hard to question that decision. Yes, the Heat did lose to the Wizards on Nene's layup with .5 of second remaining. But Wade's injury did sound an alarm, and the Heat (45-18) probably weren't going to get the No. 1 seed anyway.
The Bulls (48-16) made that even more certain when they beat Dallas 93-83 at home Saturday. The only way Miami still could get the top seed is if Chicago loses its final two games and the Heat win their final three. Miami then would have the tiebreaker.
The Heat, though, are assuming they will finish No. 2 and most likely play a No. 7 New York in the first round. The Knicks (33-30) are tied with Philadelphia (33-30) for No. 7 but hold the tiebreaker and have an easier remaining schedule
The Heat play out the string with Sunday's home finale against Houston and road games at Boston and Washington. Spoelstra was asked how he might handle the games with the Heat all but locked into No. 2.
"We have to evaluate every single day where the guys are, with the injuries and weigh whether if they play right now it could create further damage, the minor injuries, or whether we can do it and still get in rhythm," said Spoelstra, whose team had been doing well in a the rhythm department until a five-game winning streak was broken Saturday.
James had said before Saturday's game he planned to return Sunday, but that was before the chance at the No. 1 seed was all but lost. Spoelstra wouldn't confirm his return after the game, saying he would be reevaluated Sunday.
Also sitting out Saturday was center Ronny Turiaf, who missed his sixth straight game with a left hamstring pull, an injury Spoelstra said the Heat must be very careful about. Spoelstra said the Heat also are being cautious with Bosh, who missed his third straight game and is said to banged up.
But Spoelstra said before the game Bosh will play again in the regular season. As for whether Wade will appear in any of them, that's up in the air.
"I don't know," Wade said. "I'm going to take it day by day. I'll see how my finger feels. I just want to get this better We're kind of in our position (No. 2 seed), and it's not a bad position to be in. The thing about this time of the year, guys will be on eggshells, freaky accidents occur. We got (an injury) but it's not that bad so I'll be prepared and I'll be ready for the playoffs."
Wade said he's never had a dislocated finger before. But he doesn't have to go very far from his locker-room stall to seek advice.
James suffered one March 26 at Indiana and didn't miss any action. And guard James Jones dislocated his left index finger, which like Wade isn't on his shooting hand, last Sunday at New York. Jones also missed no time.
"It's his body and (it depends) how he heals," Jones said. "He uses his left hand a lot more (than Jones does), so I would suspect (that's) not bad The thing with a dislocation, you want to continue to use it as much as possible to keep that flexibility. So by using it, it will heal probably faster than I do He can play."
Jones, who had been ejected against Chicago for a flagrant 2 foul and said he is appealing to the NBA for it to be downgraded, started for James in Miami's makeshift lineup. If you count Turiaf, who had started five of six games before being hurt, the Heat were without four starters when Wade was lost for the night.
The Heat, who got 16 points and 10 rebounds from swingman Mike Miller, fell behind by as many as 14 points in the third quarter. But the gritty gang of non-stars stormed back to lead by as many as four early in the fourth quarter.
With the Heat trailing 84-82 in the waning seconds, big man Udonis Haslem provided a highlight that will compete with those from James and Wade for best plays this season. After guard Mario Chalmers missed a fast-break layup in traffic, Haslem came from nowhere for a tip dunk that tied the score 84-84 with 4.2 seconds left. It was his 15th and final rebound of the night.
The excitement didn't last long. Wizards point guard John Wall, who dished out 13 assists, passed to Nene for his final one for a layup that clinched the win.
But perhaps the loss was a blessing in disguise. No longer seriously fighting for the No. 1 seed, the Heat don't have to take any chances with players the rest of the regular season.
After all, if the Heat want to come up big this season, the Big Three likely will need three healthy members.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson