The Miami Heat marched into the nation’s capital having lost two straight games to games, visiting President Obama, and looking to be the next top team to knock off the Washington Wizards.
The Wizards have struggled against good teams this year. Before this game they have not beat any signature teams. Before going into Wednesday’s game against the Heat, the Wizards were a combined 1-14 against teams that had a .500 or above record at the time. The only team they had beaten with a winning record was the Atlanta Hawks, who currently sit one game above .500 at 19-18.
The Wizards have played many of those 14 teams tough, but just could not put four quarters of basketball together in those losses. They had the Oklahoma City Thunder on the ropes in Oklahoma City, but eventually fell to the Thunder 106-105 in overtime earlier in the year. They used a ferocious fourth quarter comeback to almost knock off the Houston Rockets last Saturday. So, the Wizards have had chances to beat these top teams, but just not enough to secure a signature win.
The Wizards have beaten most of the teams they are supposed to, but that is what most solid teams do. However, teams that want to make that next leap most beat tough opponents on a regular basis. The Wizards have obviously not made that leap yet this season, but Wednesday’s game was huge opportunity for the Wizards to land a trademark win and gain some momentum as the All-Star break quickly approaches.
And that is exactly what they did topping the two-time defending champions Miami Heat 114-97 Wednesday. The Wizards played their most complete game of basketball to date.
This was not a game where the Miami Heat were resting some of their superstars or going into a back-to-back. This was a game where the best player in the league, LeBron James, was going to prove to folks that he has not been coasting this season.
James was baffled by the acquisition that he had been coasting when asked by a reporter and claimed, “We’ll see Wednesday how I’m coasting. You’ll see the numbers I put up on Wednesday. Just watch.” Of course, the Washington Wizards were the opponent Wednesday. Just their luck. That is the definition of #SoWizards (a running joke on Twitter about the ballclub). They were going to have to go against an enraged James who has the ability to dominate a game in every facet and will his team to victory, no matter the opponent. The Wizards stood no chance. Or so we thought.
The Wizards came out in the first quarter and were locked in. They know they had a tough task on their hands to begin with, but with James basically proclaiming he was going to destroy him, they would have to be even more ready for this contest. The Wizards scored the first bucket of the game off a Marcin Gortat left-handed hook in the paint and never looked back.
The Wizards led the entire game. The first quarter was about as perfect 12 minutes of basketball as a team can play. They scored in a variety of ways. They nailed shots from behind the arc, making all five of their three-point attempts. The Wizards used their size advantage and scored 16 points in the paint during the quarter. But the difference was the Wizards got out and ran. And they ran efficiently. The Wizards scored 18 fast break points, scoring off Heat turnover,long misses, and the Wizards three block shots in the quarter.
The Wizards played god like in the in the first quarter, but we all know what really sparked the dominating first quarter. It was the “Bandwagon Cam.” The camera in the Verizon center, which showed all the “Heat” fans in D.C. on the arena’s jumbotron. After the “Bandwagon Cam” was unleashed the Wizards ran the Heat out of the gym and scored 18 straight. There is no coincidence here. The “Bandwagon Cam” is an awesome tool that has magical powers.
The Wizards scored a season high 43 points in the first quarter while holding the Heat to only 18. Wall (11 points) and Bradley Beal (10 points) led the Wizards in the first quarter.
The Wizards were so effective in the first quarter for a variety of reasons. For one, they shot 77.3 percent (17-of-22) from the field. Yeah, you are usually in pretty good position if you shoot 77 percent from the field in a quarter. But, the main thing was Wall controlling the tempo. The Wizards are very explosive when well Wall is pushing the tempo and using his speed to have the defense on their heels. He did exactly that in the first quarter, seemingly pushing the ball no matter the situation and it had the Heat defense in spastic condition trying to stop the Wizards.
The rest of the game was not played as perfectly as the first quarter, but the Wizards played well enough to hold off the Heat. You knew the Heat were going to make a big run and get back in the game. They have been doing stuff like that for the last two years and have an “on/off” switch like no other team in the league. It was only a matter if the Wizards could keep their composure and not get rattled by the run we all knew would happen.
And the run did happen.
A Norris Cole jumper at the end of the third quarter capped a 26-6 run by the Heat. Going into the fourth quarter the Wizards led 86-77. And if I had to bet, most people did not think there was anyway the Wizards would come out victorious.
However, the Wizards did not let the Heat get closer than nine points in the final quarter. The Wizards were able to survive this one behind their superstar point guard in John Wall. After not scoring in the third quarter, Wall was the man in the fourth. He scored 14 points in the quarter, knocking down two three-pointers and calmly sinking all six of his free throw attempts in the quarter. You could tell how much this game meant for the Wizards and their best player made sure they would not be the next victim of a patented Heat comeback.
The game does not mean a ton when you strictly look at the win-loss side of things, but for psyche of this Wizards team it means a lot. It gives them the confidence that they can play with anyone. For a team that has struggled mightily against good teams, a win like this give them confidence come playoff time when they will have to beat a good team four times in order to continue their season. The win may also provide a spark for a team looking for some momentum heading into the All-Star break next month. A win like this can be a spark plug and add a pep to the Wizards step over the next few weeks.
In the end though, the Wizards must play with the same energy and tempo the didy with Wednesday against the Heat almost nightly. It cannot be just a one time occurrence just because it was the two-time defending champions. Hopefully, signature win like this can be more of a regular ritual.
Side Note: It was just awesome to see Greg Oden back on a basketball court. For a guy that had not seen action since 2009, it was quite the sight to see Oden dunking and rebounding the basketball again. I really hope to see more of that as the season continues.