“That’s been our nemesis all year,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We haven’t taken advantage of opportunities, sickness, a guy gets hurt, missing the main guy. I don’t know if we have beat a team this year that had their main guys out. That’s got to be remedied somehow. I’ve got to figure out a way, as I tried to.”
Reserve guard A.J. Price led the Wizards with a career-high tying 23 points and John Wall nearly had a triple double with 17 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, but the Wizards came out flat and let a second straight opponent beat them with a barrage of three-pointers.
A night after surrendering a franchise-record 20 three-pointers to the New York Knicks, the Wizards let Miami connect on 17 shots from long range on an astounding 41 attempts. The Heat actually had more made three-pointers than it did from inside the arc (16).
“We didn’t take them lightly by any stretch. They beat us without their big three,” Price said. “We just need to get back to playing defense. For whatever reason, these past couple of games, we haven’t been playing the type of defense we’re capable of playing. Teams have been scoring too much. A lot of things that were happening at the beginning of the year that weren’t happening are happening now.”
The Wizards (29-50) have lost three games in a row for the first time since Wall returned from the stress injury in his left knee and had their nine-game home winning streak come to an end. They also lost another player. Backup forward Trevor Ariza missed his second straight game with a sore left knee and starting small forward Martell Webster was forced to leave in the third quarter after aggravating an abdominal strain that he has been playing through for several weeks.
Webster finished with 12 points and added two assists that led to highlight plays from Wall.
Late in the first half, Webster threw a lob that was a tad too low and Wall caught the ball under one side of the basket and converted a difficult reverse layup before crashing to the floor. In the third period, Webster threw a pass ahead to Wall, who made a dazzling reverse dunk to give the Wizards a 65-59 lead. But Webster left immediately afterward.
“Right now, it’s super sore,” said Webster, who was unsure if he would be able to play in the final three games of the season. “When my arms are moving faster than my legs, that was a sign. I didn’t want to make it any worse. That’s when I decided to come out. But man, I was having a lot of fun out there. It’s just unfortunate, but I’m going to continue to work and get better and that’s all there is too it.”
The Wizards still led after three quarters, but started to break down early in the final period. Jan Vesely, getting some rare extended minutes, helped ignite a 14-2 Heat run when he hustled under Miami’s basket to save a ball between his legs to Norris Cole, who made an easy layup.
The Wizards went without a field goal for the first 4:59 of the fourth quarter, with Kevin Seraphin making a jump hook inside to end a string of 12 straight Heat points and bring his team within 83-76. Seraphin made another strong move inside to bring the Wizards within one point. But the Heat still had one future hall of famer on the floor, and 37-year-old Ray Allen inspired another flurry. Allen (23 points) buried a turnaround bank shot and made a free throw to complete a three-point play, then he knocked down a three-pointer and found former Wizard Rashard Lewis (17 points) in the corner for another three-pointer to give Miami a 96-88 lead.
“We still feel like we just gave a game away,” Wall said. “This is one you want to win when those guys are not playing.”
The Heat wrapped up the league’s top overall seed for the postseason and also set a franchise record with 62 wins. After the game, Lewis said the team that Miami fielded – starting center Udonis Haslem also sat with a nagging right ankle injury – against the Wizards could contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“And then he woke up, right?” Webster said. “We should’ve blown that team out, we just couldn’t get it going. We’ve got to be able to take care of those games. But it’s part of the maturation of this team. This will leave a bad taste in our mouth. Definitely got to take care of those games.”