Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly identified Jalen Rose as the Toronto Raptors player who made a three-pointer in a March 30, 2007, overtime victory against the Washington Wizards. Morris Peterson made the shot. This version has been corrected.
By the time the lead grew to 34 points in, oh, the second quarter, it was as if they had been honored at the White House. It was as if the Washington Wizards had been feted as two-time NBA champions and for a curtain call the next night, they decided to dunk on the mugs of LeBron James and the moribund Miami Heat.
Two things to take away from this upside-down universe of a game Wednesday night at Verizon Center, where John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene and friends outran and outshot at least three future Hall of Famers before a stunned full house of 20,000-plus on Abe Pollin Way.
1) If the Wizards do not find a way to at least earn the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs after how absolutely awesome they looked against the class of the league, this regular season should go down as a bit of a disappointment.
2) The Heat has found out what the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers and many other repeat champions have found out: it’s okay to take nights off — heck, whole weeks and months off — during the 82-game grind as long your best players’ bodies are good to go in late April when the playoffs begin.
Let’s deal with the first point because irrespective of whom Washington was playing and how the other team defended Wednesday night, this was perhaps the most complete, all-around performance a team under Randy Wittman has given.
The ball moved so quickly, whizzing around the perimeter en route to a 43-point first quarter, that it felt like there were five basketballs in motion.
The Wizards made the extra pass. They rotated defensively. They did everything a coach could want, blending seamlessly together while fairly blowing the Heat off their home floor.
Nene ended things. He rejected LeBron in the opening minute as he rose toward the rim, and the crowd sensed something big about to happen. Then he flushed the ball down over LeBron in the final minutes as Miami tried to flick the switch late and crawl out from one of the largest holes anyone covering the team could remember.
“When you move the ball like that, when you make that extra pass and find your guy and everybody is playing together like that — whoop a team like Miami’s [behind],” Martell Webster said, “that’s how this game should be played.”
And how Miami comported itself as a reigning back-to-back champ is how not to comport yourself.
There was a moment at the end when Webster went baseline after Dwyane Wade had tried to cheat out and guard the three-point line. Wall was brilliant all night, but on this play he almost telegraphed the alley-oop pass by looking at Webster twice. Wade either wasn’t looking or didn’t care, because he didn’t budge as Webster floated high and threw down a malicious dunk to put the game out of reach.
Never has a team appeared to be so distraught over the trading of Joel Anthony, who was moved to Boston prior to the game.
This was indeed about the Heat as much as it was about the Wizards. Miami has lost three straight games for the first time since January 2012. A year after actually infusing the NBA regular season with drama, chasing the all-time consecutive win streak before stopping for second best all time at 27 victories in a row, LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and that crew became the best reason to tune in between October and April — much the same way Michael Jordan’s Bulls became the It Team for several years.
But now the Heat is in repeat mode, meaning it is harder and harder to convince the mind and body how important it is to thump Washington in January when Miami will very likely have enough victories in the bank to secure home court for at least two rounds and then face Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals again.
Still, bad habits are being built upon. Once nails defensively, Miami held teams to 93 points per game in November. By December, the number was 100. Now it’s January and the number is 102 points per game, with the field goal percentages rising for opponents by game.
The Wizards shot 55 percent Wednesday and managed a 69-point half. LeBron said the obligatory, “In order for us to win, we have to defend,” afterward. He added: “Either it is mental fatigue or lack of focus, and it is all trickling down to our play on the floor. We got to figure this out obviously.”
Well, yes and no. The Heat has to begin winning and getting in players’ grilles again, but the most important thing is its rotation players roll into April with a clean bill of health and maintain some semblance of freshness by the team the Pacers series transpires.
It was that kind of improbable night.
Really, you could not make this game up. The two-time NBA champions, fresh off celebrating their June title with President Obama at the White House a day earlier, show up to face to the team with the NBA’s second-worst home record.
The Wizards, 7-9 at Verizon coming in and losers of their last four here amid catcalls and jeers, jump out to a 34-point lead! They score more points in a quarter (43) than they have in the history of the building.
Only to give 25 points back. Including a dunk . . . to Greg Oden! Who hadn’t played since December 2009.
In easily one of the zaniest, crazy theatrical regular season games anyone can remember here since Michael Ruffin threw the ball up in the air and thought the game was over and Morris Peterson threw it up for three and Toronto somehow won in overtime — I can still hear Steve Buckhantz’s call of the play, “It’s not possible!” — the Wizards subdued the coasting, cruising Heat.
Asked whether this could possibly be a playoff preview, Wittman said deadpan afterward, “I hope not.”
“They’re going to be in the playoffs,” he added. “You hope we run into them. Where? Who knows.”
January games can mean everything or nothing. Still, after Wednesday night, there is no reason this shouldn’t be a second-round matchup.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.