Coach Randy Wittman didn’t want his players to get overly concerned about the venue, although the Wizards had been saving some of their worst performances for Verizon Center in recent weeks. They had lost four straight at home when they welcomed the two-time defending champion Miami Heat but Wittman dispelled the notion that something was amiss with the rims, hardwood and red, white and blue surroundings.
“Nothing to do about the gym,” Wittman said. “You know I’m an old Hoosier. In the movie Hoosiers they got that measuring tape out and it’s 10-feet no matter where you play it. We just weren’t playing the same way we were on the road.”
The Wizards only needed 12 minutes to prove that they were capable of giving a quality performance at home, against a quality team, as they stormed the Heat with a 43-point quarter that set them up nicely for a 114-97 win over the Heat. Utilizing their advantages with size and speed, the Wizards punished the Heat inside on offense, forced turnovers and got out in transition to post the highest-scoring period since Dec. 26, 2006, when Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and the crew tacked 45 points on the Memphis Grizzlies.
Washington was also suffocating on the defensive end, forcing six turnovers and recording three blocked shots while holding the Heat to an opponent season-low of just 18. It was the second straight game in which the Wizards held an opponent below 20 in the first quarter. Nene provided the most resounding rejection one minute into the game, when he slapped a LeBron James layup attempt off the backboard, setting up John Wall with two free throws on the other end.
“It sent a message,” Martell Webster said. “LeBron is an amazing athlete, one of the best players — probably when it’s all said and done — to play this game. And for [Nene] to come out and set the tone early, letting him know that nothing is going to be easy.”
Trevor Ariza was battling a triple-digit fever and still had to contend with James, but he stole a James pass and fed Gortat for a dunk and stole another pass from Norris Cole that resulted in another slam by Wall that put the Wizards ahead, 16-10.
“Under the weather all morning, gave me his all,” Wittman said. “He wasn’t feeling up and now he’s got to come out and guard LeBron. He’s probably sicker now.”
James responded with a jumper but what followed was a barrage that hardly anyone could’ve expected. Over the next six minutes, the Wizards would stage a 29-6 run and make 10 consecutive shots. Bradley Beal started the rally with a fast break layup and Wall put the Wizards ahead, 41-16, with a 20-foot pull-up jumper.
The string of made baskets ended with Wall missing a jumper, but Booker swiftly made a putback off the glass to give his team a 25-point lead entering the second period. The Wizards shot 77.3 percent (17 of 22) in the first period, which came 0.5 percentage points short of the franchise record for the all-time in the shot-clock era. They also were a perfect 5 for 5 from long distance in the period, something that hasn’t happened since Wall arrived.
“That’s the best ball we’ve played all year. Whenever you play that team, just the stars they have, and what they’re capable of doing, you always have to be ready to go. I think we did a great job coming off from the jump of getting a great lead, and playing hard throughout the whole night,” said Beal, who scored 10 of his 19 points in the period. “Really it started with our defense. Our defense just really got us going. We came out and scored the first basket of the game and [when you’ve] got the crowd behind you like that, they just give us that much more energy. And we stuck with it on defense. They made a lot of tough shots, but I think we were 77 percent from the field in the first quarter. That was terrific for us to be able to start inside, get the ball inside and knock down shots the way we did.”
The Heat inevitably made a run in the second half to get within nine points, but Wizards built a lead that was just too large for Miami to overcome. The Wizards are now 3-0 at home against Southeast Division opponents after handing Miami its third straight loss.
“We knew they were going to come in with a chip on their shoulder after losing two in a row. This is a game they probably thought they could get back on track, and we just wanted to come out here and compete,” Wall said. “Against those teams, you just got to find a way to make shots. We made shots that we’ve been making on the road that we haven’t been making at home. Just moving the ball and trusting each other as a group while we are out there as a team.”
The Wizards are now 2-14 against teams with winning records and 8-9 at home after leaving the Heat in the dust. They scored 69 points in the first half, the highest total of the season and the most in four years. “I think it was the best half of basketball that we’ve played all season,” Webster said. “It’s easy to get up for these games. The most important thing is when the teams below .500 come in here and if we’re able to have that intensity and sense of urgency, then we’ll be a scary team in the East.”