Dwyane Wade, Heat fall short of East finals matchup with LeBron’s Cavs

The loss of center Hassan Whiteside to a sprained MCL in Game 3 opened the lane — and essentially the floodgates — for the Raptors to drive and attack over the final four games without having to contend with the presence of the NBA’s leading shot-blocker. Over the final two games of the series, the Heat were reduced to playing a small-ball lineup without a real ability to spread the floor with shooters, or to favorably speed up the tempo of the game. Ultimately, the season caught up with the Heat.

“With what we had, we fought tooth and nails,” Wade said. “We exhausted all of our possibilities. We did everything we possibly could to try to get there. Hopefully, moving forward, this organization is not snake-bitten like we’ve been the last two years, losing key players.”

Whereas injuries were the reason for the in-season losses of those key players, attrition now poses a threat to roster stability moving into the summer. Both Wade and Whiteside are among seven key players headed for free agency on July 1. Retaining both will be the top priority for the Heat, who are likely to have at least $40 million in salary-cap space to address roster needs.

Wade, 34, earned $20 million this season on a one-year deal after a tenuous negotiation with team president Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison last summer. Although Wade did not want to address his future Sunday, he did suggest that he can’t take for granted that his role will be the same as the dominant catalyst on offense as me moves into the remaining seasons of his career.

Whiteside, 26, traveled with the team to Toronto for Sunday’s game but did not speak with reporters. It is unclear whether he will need offseason knee surgery and what impact that might have on his market value. But after a breakout season in which he finished third in NBA voting for defensive player of the year, Whiteside could command a max contract worth more than $90 million over four seasons.

And then there’s the uncertainty surrounding Bosh, who pressured the Heat to clear him to return in the Toronto series before the sides agreed to re-evaluate his medical options in the offseason. Bosh, 32, just completed the second year of a five-year, $124 million contract, but there are legitimate questions within the team as to whether he will be able to play again.

“I feel very badly for C.B. because I know how much this game means to him, and I think everybody knows how much C.B. means to me,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Bosh. “That’s why this team was able to get to this point; they never made excuses and they never felt sorry for themselves.”

Veterans Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire are also free agents who either declined to discuss their future or said they would weigh their options once July arrives. The Heat do have an established point guard in Goran Dragic locked up for four more seasons and a young foundation to build from with rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson as solid rotation contributors.

Wade spent time in a quiet postgame locker room meeting briefly with Winslow and Richardson.

“It was no big message,” Wade said. “I just wanted to ask them how it felt for them to be in the playoffs, in a Game 7 moment. Look at them and their age, they have so much in front of them.”

Wade then walked into his postgame news conference wearing a white baseball cap engraved with the words “Father Prime,” which is the nickname his younger teammates gave him this season.

Wade took some solace in providing plenty of prime moments in his healthiest season since 2010.

But that prime time playoff showdown with LeBron?

Maybe next postseason.

The plot leading to the second Grand Slam of 2016 has been filled with unexpected twists and turns, but the ending is a familiar one: Can anyone beat Serena Williams at the French Open?

The question lingers like smoke over the rest week before the start at Roland Garros. The fire: Williams’ 11th-hour triumph at the Italian Open on Sunday. Until she bamboozled her fellow countrywoman Madison Keys in the final in Rome, 7-6 (5), 6-3, the jury was out on Williams and her chances at the coming major.

Williams had gone nine months without a title. She took a long break after the US Open, but the reboot wasn’t entirely successful. Her emotions were still raw and volatile. Williams’ record in 2016 before Rome was 13-3 in just three tournaments. She showed up in a Beyonce music video instead of the Madrid Premier Mandatory tournament (she pulled out with the flu), leaving all of her French Open preparations for the last minute.

Not good omens.

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