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With ‘Big Three’ watching, Wizards get big relief against Heat

Wizards 107, Heat 106 (OT)

The Wizards' Kyle Kuzma buried a three-pointer late in the fourth quarter to send Friday night's game against the Heat to overtime. Washington won, 107-106. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

In his first return to Capital One Arena in more than 11 years, Gilbert Arenas was asked for his thoughts on the current Washington Wizards squad.

Arenas, mischievous as ever, smiled and joked that he hadn’t been watching the team at all while Bradley Beal was out, then said how proud he was to see his old pal Wes Unseld Jr. ascend to the head coaches’ chair.

“We remember his first scouting report, up there shaking, he didn’t know what he was talking about," Arenas said.

Arenas had a prime view of the Wizards’ 107-106 overtime win against the Miami Heat on Friday, but it wasn’t exactly Beal he was watching at the end of a dramatic game.

With less than 10 seconds left in overtime, Beal held the ball at the top of the arc, tried to get open but instead dished to a cutting Taj Gibson, the team’s 37-year-old, third-string center who had injected a much-needed shot of energy on defense throughout the game. Gibson’s attempt at a short-range floater was off, but fortunately for Washington so was Miami’s attempt at the other end with less than two seconds on the clock after a pair of timeouts.

The Wizards (9-7) will gladly take a win any day of the week, but Friday’s was more an escape than a victory.

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“We’ve still got to be better, man,” Beal said. “We can’t do that against a team that doesn’t have the majority of their guys out there.”

The Heat (7-9) was without a staggering nine players because of injuries when it came to Washington, including its top three scorers in Jimmy Butler (knee), Bam Adebayo (knee) and Tyler Herro (ankle).

Yet even the dregs of its roster often looked more assured, in better shape and more energized than the Wizards. Miami led by 15 points in the first half behind a dual effort from Kyle Lowry and Max Strus, who stepped up in their flashier teammates’ stead. It sustained a disorienting zone defense for nearly the entire game.

Lowry gave Washington fits all night and logged a triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists (Miami had 23 assists in total). Strus worked as a sharpshooter all night and racked up 22 points.

Together they combined for seven three-pointers.

Nineteen-year-old Nikola Jovic, the 27th pick in this year’s draft and the Heat’s youngest starter ever, according to the Associated Press, added 18 points.

Trouble began at the start of the second quarter, which the Heat opened with a 14-5 run against Washington’s bench. The Wizards were without backup guard Jordan Goodwin (left knee soreness), an added challenge for a unit that has been flat for the past handful of games. The reserves were similarly uninspiring Friday.

Miami worked its zone defense well enough, but it was Washington’s defense that made the difference in a negative way by fouling far too much. The Heat made 25 of 32 shots at the free throw line compared with the Wizards’ paltry 10 of 14. Their offense wasn’t much help — they looked uncomfortable playing against the zone.

“It was zone, but it was one of the most awkward zones I’ve played against,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “They were really locked in top of the key and then paint area around [the free throw line]. You felt like you were so open you didn’t know what to do. That’s how we felt in a lot of those situations. They were giving up some early shots, some early twos, and it kind of made it really awkward for us, at least from my perspective. The shots I was getting, those are not the same shots that I’ve [been] getting in these games.”

Beal led the team with 27 points and eight assists to balance out seven turnovers. Porzingis had 20 points and 17 rebounds, and Kyle Kuzma added 21 points and eight rebounds.

Corey Kispert added 17 points off the bench.

Beal and Kuzma combined to send the game to overtime after a tight fourth quarter. Beal had the ball in his hands near the end of regulation, this time identifying an excellent skip pass.

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He swung the ball from near half court with all the strength his upper body could muster to find Kuzma deep in the corner, and Kuzma hit a three-pointer to send the crowd into a frenzy. Lowry missed a rushed, last-second floater on the other end to send the game to overtime tied at 104.

Arenas, calmly watching without standing up with the rest of the crowd at Capital One Arena, clapped from his seat at midcourt.

Here’s what else you need to know about the Wizards’ victory:

‘Big Three’ reunites

Arenas was in town because the Wizards honored him, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler — their “Big Three” — as a part of the team’s ongoing celebration of the 25th anniversary since the Bullets became the Wizards. Butler is an assistant coach with the Heat.

Miami is hurting

Overstuffed injury reports haven’t been rare in the past few years as teams have dealt with covid-19 outbreaks on the roster. But the Heat, without a single player in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, pulled off a feat Friday with nine players sidelined. It had more assistant coaches than available players on the bench.

In addition to Butler, Adebayo and Herro, Dewayne Dedmon (non-covid illness), Udonis Haslem (personal reasons), Victor Oladipo (knee) and Duncan Robinson (hand) sat out. Gabe Vincent (knee) was in uniform but not available. Former Georgetown big man Omer Yurtseven (ankle) and Oladipo (knee) have yet to play a game this season because of longer-term injuries.

A short night for Gafford

Backup center Daniel Gafford picked up two fouls in less than five minutes on the court and spent the rest of his night on the bench. He didn’t score or grab a rebound, and he wasn’t the only unproductive member of the second unit — wing Will Barton also went scoreless and had just one rebound Friday.

Unseld went with Gibson in Gafford’s place, the coach said, to try to shake up the team’s energy on defense. The veteran center had a crucial eight rebounds and earned the WWE-style belt that the Wizards’ players award to the best defender in the game.

“It feels good at my age, with how many years I’ve been in the league,” Gibson said of his award. “You got young guys on your team still calling your number, still embracing you, giving you an award especially after playing so hard, it means a lot. It’s bigger than an award, just seeing the young guys on my team cheer me on.”

No update on Wright

Backup guard Delon Wright was initially scheduled to be reevaluated this week after suffering a hamstring strain in late October. Unseld had no update on Wright and said the medical staff would look at him by the end of the weekend.