LeBron James quickly spun around Trevor Ariza and took off for what he thought would be an easy scoop layup. Nene met James mid-flight, however, and slapped the shot hard against the backboard, sending the four-time NBA MVP crashing into the basket stanchion and delivering a message to the Miami Heat that the Washington Wizards weren't going to be as hospitable as President Obama was at the White House a day earlier.
The Wizards, in fact, were quite rude hosts, with Trevor Booker running over and flattening Dwyane Wade in the second quarter, when Washington built a stunning 34-point lead.
With a determined and at times dominant effort, the Wizards finally claimed the home victory they have long sought in 2014, relying on that first-half cushion to pull out a 114-97 win over the two-time defending champions.
“They came here, whatever. They went to the White House, whatever. We just came here to play," Nene said after scoring 19 points with a career-high nine assists and three blocked shots.
John Wall scored a team-high 25 points and also added nine assists as the Wizards (18-19) snapped a four-game home losing streak. With the Heat making one final run to get within nine with 5 minutes 32 seconds remaining, Bradley Beal made a layup. Then Wall closed the door with two free throws, two pretty passes — he found Martell Webster for an alley-oop lob and then fed Nene for an emphatic dunk over James — and a couple of shots of his own. He hit a pull-up jumper over Heat guard Norris Cole, then buried a fall-away three-pointer to end any suspense. With the first sellout crowd of the season on its feet, Wall lifted his hands and motioned for more noise — and it kept coming.
“Last four or five games, we was getting blew out by 20 points, so [there] was no point it getting like that,” Wall said of the enthusiastic crowd after the Wizards improved to 8-9 at home. “When you play teams like that, got star players that are on the other side, they’re very excited. But when it’s a game that we can win, the crowd gets into it. We wanted to give them what they deserve, winning games at home.”
Nene missed the first meeting between the teams in early December with a sore right Achilles' tendon but relished his big performance and even bigger dunk on James.
“I was struggling the last week about calls, about things I couldn’t control, and I started to drag myself down,” he said. “I start look myself in the mirror. I said, ‘Forget about all the things around you. Do your best and don’t forget to smile, because that’s what people like. Your teammates feel confident when you feel happy.’ And right there, I just wanted a good moment, to finish a nice game.”
Beal also had 19 points as the Wizards got double-digit scoring performances from seven players to defeat Miami for the second time in three games at Verizon Center. The Heat (27-11) has lost three in a row and nine of its past 11 against teams with losing records. Chris Bosh led all scorers with 26 points, and James had 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but Wade was limited to eight points on 4-for-11 shooting.
The Wizards attacked the Heat inside and got in transition early, turning the game into a track meet that Miami was ill-prepared to run. James made a jumper to bring the Heat within 16-12, but the Wizards scored the next 20 points, forcing Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra to call two timeouts that did nothing to stall momentum. After the first timeout, Wall made a three-pointer to put the Wizards up 15. And after the second, Ariza made another three-pointer to push the lead to 22.
“It was really good to watch,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We moved the ball as well as we have. We defended. We got out and ran. We made the extra pass. That was fun to see as a coach.”
Booker gave the Wizards a 43-18 lead after the first quarter when he rebounded a Wall miss and guided the ball into the hoop as time expired. The 43-point first period was the biggest by the team in more than seven years.
“I looked up at the score. I wasn’t paying attention the whole quarter. I was like, ‘Is that right?’ ” Booker said after scoring 13 points and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds. “I really didn’t know. I had no clue we was whipping them like that. I was just playing.”
Booker ran over Wade while setting up on offense in the second quarter and heard an earful from Wade while Garrett Temple was on the foul line. Booker tried to explain, but it only made Wade more upset — especially when the Wizards refused to let up.
Nene drove around Heat reserve Udonis Haslem, drew a foul and made a swooping layup that led Marcin Gortat to lean back, flash three fingers and hoot wildly. Gortat then patted Nene on his backside before Nene made a free throw to put the Wizards up by 30.
“I was excited,” said Gortat, who had 12 points and three blocked shots. “I was yelling, “He’s a mad man! He’s a mad man!”
Nene added two more free throws to push the lead to 64-30 before the Heat rallied. Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden, playing his first game since suffering a devastating knee injury on Dec. 5, 2009, made two free throws to ignite an 18-5 run that Miami used to end the half.
James came alive when he caught a lob from Wade and threw down a dunk and scored nine points during the run, including two free throws that sent them into the locker room trailing by 21.
Playing despite a 102-degree fever and nausea, Ariza (10 points) made a winding, twisting layup around James, then buried a three-pointer to put them ahead 80-51 early in the third period. But the Wizards found no comfort in the lead.
Wittman stayed committed to an eight-man rotation, and it came back to haunt them in the third period, when the Wizards looked absolutely gassed while making a slew of mental mistakes. After committing two turnovers in the first half, the Wizards turned over the ball on nine of their last 11 possessions in the third quarter, allowing the Heat to climb all the way back within 86-77 entering the fourth.
“That was probably the most poised I’ve ever seen us,” Beal said. “We knew we were up 30, then they ended up going on a run, and that’s what they’re capable of doing. We didn’t expect anything less from them. But at the same time, that didn’t faze us.”