CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A year ago, the Miami Heat couldn't wait to finish a horrendous, injury-plagued season. Now Dwyane Wade and his young teammates plan to be playing deep into the spring thanks to one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history.
As usual, Wade led the Heat's latest milestone, scoring 27 points and dishing out 10 assists on Friday night as Miami clinched a playoff berth with a 97-92 comeback victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.
A year after going 15-67, the Heat joined the 1968-69 San Diego Rockets — a team that included Heat president Pat Riley — as the second NBA team to reach the postseason after winning 15 or fewer games the year before. The Rockets also recovered from a 15-67 disaster.
"It's a huge accomplishment for this team," Wade said, "to come back after that season and not really make huge, huge changes."
Wade, whose injuries derailed last season, made three free throws in the final 19 seconds as the Heat recovered from an early 15-point deficit. Charlotte's Raymond Felton then missed a tying 3-point attempt with 5 seconds left as the Bobcats suffered a damaging loss to their own playoff hopes.
The Bobcats, who lost guard Raja Bell to a right calf injury in the third quarter, fell two games behind idle Chicago for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"We can't lose anymore at this point," Felton said. "Every game is a critical game. Six more, we've got to go 6-0."
Daequan Cook, who added 16 points for Miami, hit the two clinching free throws after Felton's miss. Michael Beasley, returning after twisting his right ankle, scored 14 points and hit a jumper with 1:45 left that put Miami ahead 90-87.
The rookie then blocked D.J. Augustin's driving layup at the other end, one of several miscues for Charlotte in its second straight frustrating loss — and perhaps a costly one for its rotation.
"Raja said his calf popped," Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. "So I imagine it's going to be a while."
The Heat moved within one percentage point of Philadelphia for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, a spot that would avoid a first-round matchup with either Boston or Orlando.
The only negative for Miami was Udonis Haslem. The forward cut his right thumb on the backboard defending Gerald Wallace's driving layup attempt late in the third quarter. Haslem, who needed six stitches, was wearing a splint after the game and hinted he could be out for a week or more.
"I definitely can't play with six stitches in my shooting hand," Haslem said.
But Haslem, who still has a bandage above his left eye after receiving seven stitches in a game Monday, vowed to be ready for the postseason after living through last season's nightmare.
"That just says a lot about the guys that we're here last year who kind of came back with a chip on their shoulders," Haslem said. "It says a lot about the young guys who followed our lead."
Things were much more somber in Charlotte's locker room. Like in their double-overtime loss to Boston on Wednesday, the Bobcats were on the short end of the free-throw count. The Heat had 24 attempts to Charlotte's 12, including 16-0 in the fourth quarter.
"It's very frustrating," said Wallace, who led the Bobcats with 21 points. "You always look at the last two minutes of the game, we don't get the calls. ... But when you look back at it, it's always because of us. It's nothing the referees are doing."
The Heat took an 88-83 lead with 3:05 left when Wade scored five straight points. Felton then scored four in a row before Beasley's jumper. Felton missed a driving layup attempt with about 30 seconds left and Charlotte trailing 92-89, setting up the first two of Wade's clutch free throws
Charlotte, wearing green jerseys as part of an NBA promotion to raise awareness for recycling, raced to a 24-9 lead by scoring easily in transition and pouncing on Miami's six early turnovers. But the Heat rallied in the second quarter when the Bobcats got sloppy, and Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer in the final second made it 45-all at halftime.
The Heat recovered to win on the road for only the fourth time in 16 games to celebrate a return to the postseason.
"It's a big step for our franchise and for Pat Riley and (managing partner) 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."
Notes:@ A specialist determined Heat G Luther Head won't need surgery on his broken left hand, but will be fitted with a cast and will still miss 4-6 weeks. ... With the Bobcats playing at Detroit on Sunday, ex-North Carolina players Felton and Sean May, and Connecticut product Emeka Okafor were planning to watch their old teams in the Final Four on Saturday night at Ford Field. Brown, a Tar Heel alumnus who is also close to Villanova coach Jay Wright, doesn't plan to watch that matchup in person. "That would be a hard game for me to sit through," Brown said.