The Wizards had plenty of reason to fold on Wednesday. They were essentially playing a sixth consecutive road game, since they arrived from Salt Lake City the day before with limited time to recover and prepare for one of the league’s best and most talented teams, the Miami Heat. And, they were missing Nick Young, Rashard Lewis, Josh Howard and Trevor Booker, four of their top seven rotation players.
But when John Wall was ejected for getting into an altercation with Heat reserve center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the Wizards appeared to have lost any chance of being able to hang with a team that featured three all-stars in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. With their best player gone and in the locker room just 16 minutes into the game, the Wizards stayed close with the Heat until succumbing to a late flurry and losing, 123-107, before 18,916 at Verizon Center.
“The score is not an indication of how well our guys played,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “I thought our guys competed.”
Jordan Crawford scored a career-high 39 points, becoming the first Washington rookie to have that many points since Tom Gugliotta reached the same number on Nov. 12, 1992 against the Utah Jazz. He made a career-high five three-pointers, hitting a desperation shot from beyond the arc that brought the Wizards within 91-90 early in the fourth quarter. The Heat didn’t feel secure until closing out the game on a 15-5 run.
“My teammates had to do without me,” Wall said. “That’s tough. As a competitive person, I want to play against anybody. They got three all-stars on their team, I always want to play against those kind of guys.”
Andray Blatche, playing his first game in more than three weeks, came off the bench and scored 14 points, and Othyus Jeffers -- on his second 10-day contract -- scored a career-high 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds despite being considerably undersized at a very generously listed 6-feet-5. JaVale McGee added 12 points and four blocked shots, sending Bosh to the floor on one incredibly nasty rejection and then swatting Wade on the next possession.
“We’re showing that we’re more resilient now than when we started the year,” said Maurice Evans, who scored 21 points and possibly endeared himself with some Wizards fans by committing a hard foul on James late in the fourth quarter. “We have been playing shorthanded now for awhile and John got thrown out. He does a great job running the team, getting the ball where it should go, and putting pressure on the defense. Everyone had to step up and Jordan did a great job taking over, scoring wise that’s what he does and I was impressed by everyone’s fight.”
The Heat was coming off a disappointing loss in Cleveland the night before, and Wade said playing young, talented, lottery-bound teams this late in the season could be a challenge. “They are playing free basketball. They have no worries in the world. They don’t see a bad shot, it’s not a bad shot, everything they do is right. We understand that in this time of the year with this four-game road trip, this is one of the tougher road trips of the year, we are just playing teams that are just playing for pride.”
The Wizards (18-56) showed considerable pride, which is all they have at this point. But Saunders also felt that his players grew up by refusing to give up against a team that wants to keep playing until June.
“I think we’ve grown up awhile ago,” Evans said. “The Clipper game [a double-overtime loss] was a great example; we bounced back and finished that game out in Utah. We could have easily hung our heads; Jordan made that big shot and we dominated in overtime. We came back here late [Monday] night and put up a fight short-handed, which shows character.”
FROM THE POST
Columnist Jason Reid argues that Carmelo Anthony is not a franchise player.
Andray Blatche returned from his shoulder injury, but Trevor Booker is probably out for the rest of the season.
Jay-Z’s locker room visit gets the NBA’s attention (Reliable Source and The Early Lead).
AROUND THE WEB
Deron Snyder says Wall represents an opportunity for the Wizards to finally get it right. (the Washington Times).
Beckley Mason is very excited about Jordan Crawford (Truth About It).
Doug Collins’s inspired coaching has brought the 76ers a long way(CBSSports.com).
Dominique Wilkins was attacked by a former referee after last night’s Hawks game (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).