The Washington Wizards won’t know if their upset of the defending champion Miami Heat will alter the course of their season until they are able collect a few more victories against some quality opponents. But there is no doubt the victory elevated their spirits for at least a few hours, creating a much more euphoric practice atmosphere than their first win over Portland.
How could you tell? Coach Randy Wittman noticed some extra bounce in his players at Wednesday’s practice and decided to end activities early when backup point guard Shaun Livingston, five years removed from a devastating left knee injury, whirled the ball around his waist and threw down a windmill dunk.
“Surprising. A full windmill, not a chinmill. In New York, we say chinmill,” point guard A.J. Price said with a laugh, while miming a player keeping the ball close to his chin during the windup.
“Yeah, I haven’t seen that in a while,” Wittman said with a laugh. “We shut it down, end it on a good note. They’re feeling good and they should.”
If the win against Portland was mostly about survival — with the Wizards stumbling through the final minutes before running out of time to blow it — the stunning 105-101 win over Miami was about a revival of the confidence that has been absent in the final minutes of most close games. The Wizards are now 2-8 in games decided by seven points or less.
After the Heat whittled the Wizards’ 12-point lead to just two with nine minutes remaining, the unlikely trio of Kevin Seraphin, Jordan Crawford and Martell Webster outscored LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, 18-14, the rest of the way. The Wizards secured their third consecutive victory over the Heat, with the latest one counting most since Miami actually played its stars after resting them in two meetings last April.
Crawford had team highs with 22 points and added six assists, and continued to stand out while sharing the floor with James. He scored a career-high 39 points against Miami as a rookie and became somewhat of an urban legend in college when he dunked over James and the video reportedly was confiscated before his junior year at Xavier. On Tuesday, he taunted James by walking by and clapping as James lined up to shoot free throws in the final two minutes and now has a win that the Wizards (2-13) hope will lift them out of the basement.
“It won’t exactly turn it around if we don’t continue to work, but it shows that we can beat the best teams,” Crawford said. “As long as we keep working, as long as everybody keep on coming, being positive. We can do a lot of good things.”
The Wizards have struggled generating offense this season, with the team ranking at or near the bottom in scoring, field goal percentage and possessions per game.
But Wittman tweaked the offense to encourage his point guards to push the ball out to the wings and attempt to get up a shot before the Heat had a chance to get settled on defense. Washington also moved the ball better than at any other point this season, getting a season-high 31 assists on 38 field goals, after finally heeding Wittman’s complaints about players dribbling too much.
“When you pass the ball up the floor it’s much faster anyway. I showed them a guy dribbling 94 feet and a guy passing it and it’s not close,” Wittman said. “It’s not always going to necessarily equate into a layup, but it equates into quicker offense.”
With John Wall still sidelined with a left knee injury, Price has tried to get the Wizards out on the run but initially was reluctant to make the switch.
“It’s always in my head to get [the ball up the floor]. But the biggest problem I felt like I was having was [getting the ball up the floor then] not necessarily touching it anymore,” Price said. “I think the coaching staff noticed that and made a change and the early offense was the difference.”
The Wizards scored 30 points in each of the first two periods against Miami after scoring at least 30 points three times in their previous 56 quarters. They also tied their season-high with 48.1 percent shooting and beat Miami in fast-break points, 16-6.
“We don’t want to play half-court. We love to play fast,” Bradley Beal said. “Throughout the whole week of practice, that’s literally all we’ve been doing. Passing the ball up the court. Moving the ball. Making sure everyone basically touches it. When you do that, it gets the defense moving and they get tired quick. It’s a great strategy for us.”
The philosophy will have to continue for the Wizards, who didn’t escape the game without at least one casualty, with starting swingman Trevor Ariza going down with a strained left calf and expected to miss considerable time.
“We need to move the ball,” said Livingston, who could see more time at the wing position in Ariza’s absence. “That’s what good teams do, especially when you don’t have any superstar caliber players. I think it’s even more important.”
As for his practice shut-down dunk, Livingston laughed and said: “Every now and then, an old dog pulls some tricks out the bag. Back in my young days, I had a little bounce. You’ve got to pace it now because the recoveries take longer now.”
Hangovers after big wins apparently do, too.