“He was throwing in circus shots,” Saunders said after the Wizards’ 121-113 loss at American Airlines Arena.
Nick Young tried to stay in the ring with Wade, hitting difficult, contested jumpers, attacking the basket and coming back after hurting his left foot on an awkward fall in the third quarter to finish with 38 points. But while Young was able to help the Wizards withstand the first Wade outburst, they were unable to overcome the final surge, as Wade scored 14 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter to hand them their fourth loss in a row.
John Wall added 24 points and 12 assists, and JaVale McGee had 18 points and 17 rebounds, but the Wizards lost to the Heat for the third time this season.
The Wizards (15-42), after coming out of the all-star break with two putrid performances against Indiana and Philadelphia, arrived in Miami for what seemed to be a blowout-in-waiting, with the Heat coming off a disappointing loss the night before in Chicago.
The Wizards had to incorporate three new players who were unable to participate in the morning shoot-around because the paperwork on Wednesday’s trade of Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong to the Atlanta Hawks had yet to be completed. Mike Bibby, Maurice Evans and Jordan Crawford all made their debuts against the Heat after having just a walk-through of skeleton formations before the game. Starting power forward Andray Blatche was also scratched from the game after suffering a strained right hip in Wednesday’s loss to Philadelphia.
Wade went on an incredible scoring barrage in the second quarter, scoring 18 of the Heat’s first 19 points in the period. After reserve Eddie House made a three-pointer to give the Heat a 45-35 lead, Young scored 11 of the next 12 points for the Wizards. While Wade scored 23 points in the first half, Young had 24 and the Wizards trailed just 63-61.
“I respect his game a lot. He’s one of the best players in the league,” Young said of Wade. “At the same time, I’m not going to show him too much respect out there. I’m going to go out there and play hard and play my best. I’m not going to back down from a challenge.”
The Wizards stuck around, trailing just 88-86 when Evans made a jumper with 11 minutes 11 seconds left in the fourth period. Wade then took over, scoring the next eight points for the Heat. After Chris Bosh completed a difficult hook shot and made a free throw to push the Heat lead to 101-90, Wade extended the lead to 14 with a driving layup.
James added with a relatively quiet 25 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists and Bosh had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Heat (43-16), which shot 45 free throws compared to the Wizards’ 23.
“Based on everything, from the standpoint of the trade, not having Blatche, and some guys banged up and playing, I thought we really competed. I love the way our guys played,” Saunders said. “You don’t want to take moral victories, but . . . this is something we have to build on. If we play this hard against other teams, we are going to win; this is one of the two or three best teams in the league.”
Bibby entered the game at the start of the second quarter, wearing No. 00 — something other than the No. 10 for the first time in his professional career. He immediately got a good ribbing from his brother-in-law, House.
“He was just laughing at my number, it’s been a long time since I wore something else,” said Bibby, who missed all four of his field goal attempts and went scoreless. “It’s different. I’m trying to get back on track. I haven’t done anything in a week. I’m just trying to get the feel of the ball again and be back out there running.”
Crawford was used sparingly in Atlanta, but he got his opportunity to play after Young went down late in the third period, spraining his left ankle when he appeared to get nudged by James while missing a fast-break layup attempt. Crawford shot an air ball on his first attempt, but made a difficult runner off the glass to finish with two points. Evans had seven points.
Wall was making up for some lost time since he was injured for the first two meetings against the Heat. He sat out the first loss in Miami — when Armstrong was ejected for shoving Joel Anthony from the air while attempting a layup — with a sprained left foot and the second loss — when the Wizards blew a five-point lead with 30 seconds remaining — with a bone bruise under his right knee. It was another loss, but it was the kind that Wall was more willing to accept.
“If we can play this way for the rest of the season, we can win some games,” Wall said.