MIAMI — The Washington Wizards have shown a tendency through 14 games to mirror the play of their opponents. At times, this has meant playing down to the level of their foe. Other times, such as Wednesday’s 102-93 road win over the Miami Heat, it has meant playing the same rugged style as the other team.
The Heat played a defensive-minded game, so the Wizards simply one-upped Miami. Washington’s defense defined a win that included a 27-point night from John Wall and 26 from Bradley Beal. The Wizards (9-5) overcame a fourth-quarter deficit and held Miami to seven field goals in the final period.
Through the first half, the Wizards, playing their sixth straight opponent with a losing record, locked down Miami leading scorer Goran Dragic and served up fast-paced play and deep shots from the arc. While Dragic didn’t score until late in the second quarter, Wall pelted Miami with three layups in transition and two free throws in the final four minutes. However, after building the 61-49 lead, Washington allowed Miami (6-8) to play the aggressor.
The Wizards missed 10 straight shots to open the third quarter, a cold stretch that extended to their defense as Miami found its rhythm from beyond the three-point arc. Despite the feeble 10-point quarter, Washington recovered in the final period, pulling ahead despite the loss of Markieff Morris to an ejection with 5:04 remaining in the game.
Though the Wizards rallied with a 15-3 run, Wall made the play of the quarter by rejecting a Dragic layup attempt near the two-minute mark, protecting the Wizards’ seven-point lead and adding another chase-down block to his season highlight reel. Both teams hit 41 percent for the game but Washington (9-5) prevailed despite its shooting mark.
Wall finished with the game high in points but needed 21 attempts to get there. When Wall studies the evidence on his laptop, he can see clearly what’s happening with his shot.
At the free throw line, his busy toes won’t stay still long enough. His right hand seems to be in a rush. From his sweet spots in the midrange, he barely jumps higher than a phone book. Despite a vigorous summer, a prelude to what his friend and bodyguard had originally dubbed as “Wolf Season,” Wall has not reaped the early returns to those hours spent working on his jump shot. However, when Wall views clips sent to him by Washington Wizards player development coach David Adkins and his own skills trainer, Rob McClanaghan, he understands.
“It’s so simple because I watch film and I watch in the games I’m making shots, it’s about staying on balance and having follow through,” Wall said before the win over the Heat. “The games I don’t make shots: I don’t follow through, I barely jump. . . .”
Wall may be able to see the problems on playback, however they continued in real time against the Heat. Seven of his nine makes were on layups, and though he hit two of three from beyond the arc he missed the eight midrange shots he attempted.
Beyond Wall’s two performances against the Kings, in which he drubbed defenders by hitting 15 of 21 shots, including nine from beyond the three-point arc, he has been mired in a shooting funk. Through 12 games before Miami, Wall had made only 44 percent from the floor, 33.3 percent from three and a surprisingly low 73.1 from the free throw line. In midrange attempts, his second favorite destination on the floor behind his slingshots to the rim, Wall has made just 17 of 55.
“Look at my career,” Wall said. “My first couple games are never good. The first six to 10 are never good. Can’t make shots and stuff like that but then I find a rhythm and then I’d be good.”
When evaluating Wall’s first 12 games played through the starts of 2014 through 2016, he has not shot better than 45 percent overall. Though Wall went into this season with the hopes of ending that trend, his extra shot attempts in the absence of Morris only hurt his field goal percentage.
“I was taking more shots because I wanted to try to get off to a good start and not have a bad start like I did, and at times it kind of hurts the team,” Wall said. “But then you go back to [thinking]: ‘You don’t have to do that. Just play the way you play. Shots are going to come your way. You’re going to get everybody else shots and just get back to winning and play the right way.’”
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