The Washington Post

Even in defeat, Wizards like chances against Miami Heat

Miami Heat's Chris Bosh (1) blocks Washington Wizards' John Wall (2) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Miami, Monday, March 10, 2014. The Heat won 99-90. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter) We aren’t afraid of you guys. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

MIAMI – The Wizards didn’t have enough time or energy to push back after the final, Dwyane Wade-induced run in Miami. But the fact that Washington managed to hang with – and even held a brief fourth-quarter lead against – the two-time defending champions was perhaps enough of an accomplishment for the Wizards with John Wall committing turnovers at the same that rate that he scored points, Trevor Ariza playing his worst game on both ends in over a month, and Marcin Gortat starting the game missing layups as if the rim was moving around in the final seconds of Pop-a-Shot.

After a 99-90 loss on Monday at American Airlines Arena, the Wizards (33-30) didn’t seem disappointed or dejected – even as the Brooklyn Nets won to move within a half-game of them for fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings. If anything, they left Miami feeling encouraged about their chances if they can somehow find a way to face the Heat in the postseason.

Given all that went wrong in the game – from the 19 turnovers to the 34 percent shooting in the first half – Wall didn’t find it odd that Miami needed Wade to go 2006 Flash in the fourth quarter to put them away.

“No, not really, because I think we match up with those guys perfect,” Wall said. “We battle those guys. Other than the first time we came down here, we don’t back down against those guys. We played the right way of moving the ball and trying to get the right shots. We got careless turnovers. We started the game missing some chippies, but I like the way we played and the way we fought.”

Nene’s absence was probably most glaring in a game in which the Wizards dominated on the glass, outrebounding the Heat, 50-33, but failed to pound the ball inside for layups. When the Wizards shredded the Heat, 114-97, two months ago in Washington, Nene was the difference maker because of his aggressive play inside as he scored 19 points, including an impressive dunk over LeBron James late in that victory.

The Wizards were able to get 15 points off the bench from Drew Gooden, who did a solid job filling the void, but Gortat was upset that he only finished with 14 points, despite several good looks early. Gortat made six of his final eight shots but started missed 6 of 7 to start the game. “I personally started terrible,” Gortat said. “I missed a lot of easy shots. I got a good little syndrome. Once in a while I just trying to lay the ball in, except I should dunk the ball.”

Gortat still finished with nine offensive rebounds, the same number as Miami, and didn’t back down when asked how he felt the Wizards chances against the Heat in the postseason.

“It all depends on where we’re going to end up in the playoffs, but we believe that we are capable of beating Miami,” Gortat said. “Having Nene and Kevin [Seraphin] back. Now, having Drew and Dre [Miller], we believe we are capable of beating this team. We still got [19] games, we can work on it and get better. We believe that we can be the third best team in the East here and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Miami clinched a playoff berth with the win over Washington and trails Indiana by just one game for the top seed in the East, which means that the Wizards could still draw the Heat in the second-round if they finish fourth or fifth. That impressive win in Washington on Jan. 15, when they led by 34 points in the first half, is the primary reason for the Wizards’ confidence.

“Of course,” Gortat said. “Every win is giving us more confidence and we are hoping to get to that third spot that we want to get. We just got to keep grinding.”

Bradley Beal didn’t shoot the ball very well, needed 18 field goal attempts to score a team-high 18 points on Monday, but he still leads the Wizards in scoring against Miami in three games this season, averaging 18.7 points. Wade got the best of Beal after being held to just eight points in the previous meeting, but Beal always gets up for the challenge.

“We love it,” Beal said. “This is a great team. It’s always a competitive game. We know they’re a great team and they are going to go on runs, we go on runs. It just comes down to the wire like it did.  Unfortunately we were on the losing side. We got them one more time, hopefully we can get him at home.”

The Heat neutralized Wall, holding him to just seven points while forcing him into committing seven turnovers. And by taking out Wall, Miami essentially silenced Ariza, who scored just six points – his lowest point total since scoring a season-low four on Feb. 22 against the Pelicans. Ariza didn’t need a big scoring performance on that night, since Nene matched his career high with 30 points in the last game that he left the court on two good legs.

But when at full strength, the Wizards present problems in the two areas that have given Miami problems since Wade, James and Chris Bosh came together. They have capable big men in Gortat and Nene, and now Gooden and possibly Seraphin. And they have a dynamic playmaking point guard with decent size in Wall.

“I just feel confident,” Wall said. “Even the first game we got blew out, we didn’t play the right way but if we do what we’re supposed to do – force them to take jump shots, the same thing they do to me. And if I get it going, like LeBron got it going and D-Wade got it going, those guys are tougher to guard. It’s the same situation. I’m not a superstar like those guys are, but it makes me tougher to guard. They play defense and they’re aggressive but I think we’ve got enough shooters to space them out and when we play those guys, you can’t back down. You’ve got to make shots and we didn’t start the game off that way, but we stuck with it and fought to the end.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.



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Michael Lee · March 10, 2014