MIAMI – The Wizards never looked better than they did on Jan. 15, when the Miami Heat came to Verizon Center a day after a White House visit and Nene promptly greeted LeBron James with a vicious blocked shot, Trevor Booker plowed over Dwyane Wade and the team lead by 34 points in the first half. The Heat made a late push but Washington still handed Miami its third-worst loss of the season, 114-97.
When the teams meet for the third time this season on Monday at American Airlines Arena, the Wizards are expecting a much more competitive game – and much feistier Heat team.
“We know they are going to come out hard,” Marcin Gortat said. “And they are going to definitely try to get a win. They are definitely going to try to punch us in the first few minutes to make sure they knock us out just like we did in Washington. It’s going to be a tough game. We better come ready to play.”
Miami has lost three in a row – including a 95-88 loss on Sunday in Chicago – but the last time the team was at home, James scored a career-high and Heat franchise record 61 points. The Heat is an NBA-best 29-4 at home this season, including a 103-93 victory over the Wizards on Nov. 3.
The Wizards were without Nene in that loss and won’t have the 6-foot-11 big man back for about a month. But they have been playing their best basketball of the season, winning eight of nine. They are also 5-1 since Nene sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Feb. 23 in Cleveland.
Trevor Ariza has been on a tear in Nene’s absence, shooting 62.5 percent from the floor (50 for 80) and 68.3 percent from three-point range (28-of-41) while averaging 24.5 points in the past six games. John Wall has also been averaging 20.2 points and 10.7 assists. Bradley Beal is averaging 18.2 points and Gortat is posting 18 points and 9.8 rebounds.
“I think each one of us found a comfort zone. Each one of us found places where it feels comfortable on the court. And we’re all sharing the ball,” Gortat said. “Each night, it’s a different guy who scores and leads the team and I think it’s huge. We’re having fun, playing together. We’re definitely playing better defense. we’re helping each other, communicating. I would say the schedule is better for us than at the beginning of the season. That’s one of the reasons we finally got this winning streak and everything. We just got to continue.”
Beal has scored a team-best 38 points in two games against Miami this season and said playing against the two-time defending champion should always bring out the best in the Wizards.
“It’s a great team,” he said. “You’re always hype for a team like that, with so many great players and you’re going against one of the best two guards to ever play, so I just take it as a challenge and have fun with it. That’s all I’m doing. I’m always fortunate to have a pretty decent game when I play against them.”
The Wizards are seeking to win six consecutive road games for the first time Michael Jordan was in uniform from Dec. 6 to 22, 2001. They have won their first five road games after the all-star break for the first time in franchise history.
“We’re still missing a few guys,” Gortat said. “We’re missing Nene, so we’re not at 100 percent strength, but still we have to perform. We’ve got to play hard. We’ve got to come out from the first to the last minute and if each one of us come out and give 110 percent, we’re going to put ourselves in good position to win the game, but we all know that this is a really talented team and they are capable of beating everybody in this league. We just got to play our best. That’s it.”
Gortat added that the Wizards can’t draw any comfort that the Heat played a night earlier. “I don’t think the back-to-back will have any influence on their performance today. They will be ready,” he said.
Beal said the Wizards will be, too. “It’s going to be a very aggressive game, coming from them. They lost three in a row, so they’re definitely going to be mentally focused for this game. they probably see it as a must win, but we see it the same, to keep our win streak on the road alive. We got to come in ready to go from the jump, so it’ll definitely be a fast-paced game and one full of energy.”