By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 15, 2008
MIAMI, Nov. 14 -- Shaquille O'Neal is way across the country in Phoenix and Miami's starting lineup features a pair of rookies, but as long as Dwyane Wade is in uniform, the Heat will be both entertaining and dangerous.
The Washington Wizards found that out the hard way Friday night when Wade almost single-handedly turned a close game into a blowout while leading the Heat to a 97-77 victory at American Airlines Arena.
The Wizards (1-6) had hoped to build on Wednesday's home win over the Utah Jazz and despite a ragged start, they were in position to do just that early in the third quarter when Wade channeled early 1990s-era Michael Jordan and took over.
After Darius Songaila fed Caron Butler for a baseline dunk, cutting Miami's lead to 56-50 with 7 minutes 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Wade scored on a pretty reverse layup, drove and fed Udonis Haslem for an easy score, made a three-pointer with DeShawn Stevenson in his face and threw down a spectacular putback dunk off of a miss by forward Michael Beasley.
Just like that, Miami's lead was 65-50 and the Wizards were on their way to a second blowout loss in Florida in a week. They lost 106-81 at Orlando last Saturday night.
Wade cruised to 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting with four assists. He only stopped there because the game was well in hand when he took a seat for good following the third quarter.
"That's what the great players do," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "They take hold of the game and right now we don't have a great player to do that or at least to neutralize it or answer back. We had to do it as a team and we had to do it with more intensity and we didn't bring the intensity we needed to overcome a Wade."
Even before Wade took over, the Wizards were sluggish offensively. They wound up shooting 40.8 percent, finished with more turnovers (13) than assists (12) and were outrebounded 52-33.
The all-star forward tandem of Butler (six points on 3-of-10 shooting) and Antawn Jamison (15 points on 7-of-14 shooting with 10 rebounds) was never able to truly put an imprint on the game while the starting back court of Juan Dixon and DeShawn Stevenson combined for only 11 points.
Rookie JaVale McGee and second-year guard Nick Young each chipped in 13 points off the bench, but neither player made a real impact on the game.
The energy, ball movement and playmaking that led to Wednesday night's victory over the Jazz were all lacking. With his team trailing 49-36 at halftime, Jordan tried to shake things up by replacing starting center Etan Thomas with Songaila, who is a better passer and presents an outside threat as a shooter.
The Wizards opened the third with a three-pointer by Dixon, five straight points by Jamison, a drive and layup by Songaila and finally Butler's dunk, which forced a Miami timeout. Then Wade took over the way he did before knee and shoulder injuries made him a shell of his former self last season.
"He's back," Jamison said. "He's back to his normal self; penetrating, creating shots, doing things not only for himself but for his teammates. After going through the injuries and going through a tough season, he's getting better and better."
The Wizards won't have to wait long before seeing Wade and the Heat again because Miami visits Verizon Center on Tuesday night. With three days to prepare for that game, Jordan will have plenty of time to emphasize that his team has to come up with a better effort.
For one thing, there is no logical reason why a Miami team that features a front line of the 6-foot-8 Haslem (13 points, 13 rebounds) at center and the 6-9 Beasley (19 points, six rebounds) at power forward should dominate the paint the way it did Friday night.
Miami scored 23 points on second-chance opportunities and Washington's big men rarely established solid low-post position for scoring and rebounding chances.
"You might as well have 5-foot-6 guys if you're not going to fight," Jordan said. "If you're not going to defend the rim, come over and take people's space away and initiate the contact. We didn't have any of that from our bigs. I thought Antawn brought it up another notch and brought it in that regard but the others didn't."