MIAMI — Washington Wizards Coach Randy Wittman wanted his players to show up Sunday at American Airlines Arena upset and ready to take out their anger after opening the season with back-to-back losses for the fourth straight year.
It took nearly three quarters for the Wizards to show any emotion against the two-defending champion Miami Heat. And by the time Trevor Ariza eventually got fed up and collected a flagrant foul for tossing backup Heat center Chris Andersen to the ground, the Wizards had already been overrun by LeBron James’s skillful display of passing and three-pointers and Dwyane Wade’s arsenal of floaters and dunks.
After Andersen made his free throws, the Wizards trailed by 23 points and were well on their way to a 103-93 loss and third consecutive 0-3 start. But they managed to rally and forced Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra to reinsert James and Chris Bosh for the finish with a fourth quarter that left Wittman more encouraged by his team.
“This was a game I thought they hit us and we took the punch. We kept fighting the whole way through,” Wittman said. “This is how we need to play, learning and moving forward. Nobody wants to lose, but we took some steps in the right direction.”
Bradley Beal snapped out of his early doldrums to lead the Wizards with 19 points and matched his total from the first two games with four three-pointers. John Wall recovered from back spasms that flared up in the previous loss to Philadelphia and finished with 11 points and nine assists, and Ariza and Martell Webster had 13 points each.
Trevor Booker jammed his left index finger in the third quarter after scoring eight points with six rebounds but didn’t return. Afterward, Booker said his finger was “fine.”
But the Wizards were once again without Nene, who missed his second straight game with a strained left calf. Nene said he planned to have an MRI exam on Monday when the Wizards return to Washington. The Wizards continued to struggle without him, dropping to 7-30 in games that he’s missed since arriving in trade deadline deal with Denver in March 2012.
Marcin Gortat got his second start with the Wizards and posted 15 points and 11 rebounds, his first double-double of the season. Gortat also nailed his third career three-pointer — and first in three seasons — to bring the Wizards within 61-48 at halftime.
“We never got down on ourselves about the score,” Webster said. “That’s the one thing about this game. There’s opportunities and teams will give you a chance to get back into the game. It was a little too late.”
Wittman told his team at halftime that the Heat (2-2) has been complacent in the early part of the season, losing both to Philadelphia and Brooklyn after leading by double digits. The Heat didn’t have that problem in the third quarter, when it took advantage of a series of Wizards miscues and missed shots and closed out the period on an 18-7 run.
The Wizards had 21 turnovers, which the Heat turned into 25 points. “It hurt us,” Wittman said of the turnovers. “Twenty-one turnovers is far too many. They are one of the best, turning turnovers into points. But we kept battling and making plays. Our energy level for 48 minutes was really good.”
Ariza picked up three fouls in the first half and also missed his first eight field goals before scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter, when the Wizards eventually got within seven. He was clearly fueled by his act of frustration late in the third quarter. While trying to close out on Heat forward Shane Battier in the left corner, Ariza got blocked off by Andersen, who appeared to be making a moving screen. Ariza shoved Andersen and accepted his flagrant foul with a shrug.
“I’ll say, they’re already a good team. They don’t need no help,” said Ariza. “We just stayed in the game. Kept playing. That’s about it.”
The Wizards may have caught the Heat at the wrong time, since it had stumbled to a 1-2 start. Wade compared the Heat’s early problems to a relationship in which one partner gets neglectful and stops doing all the little things. Miami was certainly more alert when it came to sharing the ball, as it had 32 assists on 37 made baskets. James led all scorers with 25 points, Bosh had 24 and Wade chipped in with 20.
Washington probably had a hint that the night wouldn’t go their way in the first half, when Wall drove into the lane and James clobbered him as Wall found Beal wide open in the corner. Flat on his belly, Wall watched as Beal buried a three-pointer that would’ve brought the Wizards within nine points — but James was whistled for a foul, waving off the points. The Wizards’ possession ended with Wall being forced to take a shot from 25 feet as the shot clock expired.
“I was surprised they called the foul. I made the pass, that’s why I didn’t shoot it and I look, it’s going in and they call the foul late, so that’s how it goes,” said Wall, who was still pleased with the team’s ability to stay with it. “You never want to say a loss is good, but this one is, because we improved.”