Though there was no definitive word from the Miami Heat following its Monday morning shootaround, there are whispers that, with Indiana’s magic number to clinch the Eastern Conference’s top seed now at one, LeBron James and Chris Bosh will more than likely sit out Monday’s game against the Washington Wizards.
But no matter if the two-time defending MVP is in uniform alongside Dwyane Wade on the Verizon Center court or in street clothes on the sideline, the Wizards possess plenty of motivation entering their regular-season home finale.
“I think it’s just human nature to play up to your competition sometimes,” Wizards forward Al Harrington said. “You know you’ve got one of the best teams coming in here, everybody puts on their best outfits, gets their car cleaned that day. You just try to come in an give it your all. I think that’s what Miami brings out of all the teams in the league.”
The last time these two met at Verizon Center, the Wizards proved up for the challenge, building a 34-point lead in the second quarter before notching a 114-97 win against a Miami team at full strength.
After losing to playoff teams Chicago and Charlotte behind lethargic efforts, the Wizards have got back on track with their defensive prowess in wins against Orlando and Milwaukee. But a victory against playoff-bound Miami has the potential to ignite the Wizards (as well as their not-so-hyped fan base) as they enter their first postseason in six years later this week.
“The way we’ve got shooters and the way we’ve got big men that can pass and finish around the basket, we give ourselves a good opportunity against those guys,” Wizards guard John Wall said. “The main thing is playing defense. … We’re not a team that’s trying to outscore people; we just got to get better playing defense.”
Should LeBron and Bosh not play, the Wizards can still test their defense against the crafty Wade. After missing nine games during a recent three-game stretch, Wade returned for Saturday’s loss at Atlanta with an eye of returning to form and testing his limits in advance of Miami’s quest to win its third straight title.
In the last two years, the Wizards have faced Miami three times during the final week of the season. LeBron missed all three of those contests but the Heat still won two out of three, with Washington winning last year’s meeting by five points.
Of greater concern for the Wizards than flexing their skills against the two-time defending champs is hanging on to the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Along with holding a one-game lead on Charlotte, Washington still has an outside shot at stealing the No. 5 spot from Brooklyn should the Nets lose their last two games and the Wizards win out.
“(The Miami game) is important,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “They could be a team we face in the first round. Nothing’s solidified yet. That’s always important as we talked when we played Indiana when they came in here late and Chicago, and we haven’t played Toronto in a while, but we don’t know. So it’s always important to have the feeling not only for yourself but for the other team. … It should be a good test for us.”