MIAMI — With two defenders hounding him, John Wall had the tightest opening to attempt a pass to Nene. And with two other defenders collapsing on him, Nene had the most difficult angle to attempt a shot. But somehow, Wall was able to deliver the ball right into Nene’s sizable mitts, and Nene contorted his body to dip under and then go over the defense to make his first game-winning layup as a member of the Washington Wizards.
Wall and Nene haven’t had a chance to develop much chemistry since the Wizards acquired the big man from Denver at the trade deadline, but there was plenty of reason for optimism on Saturday in Miami that the duo will have some success going forward. That’s because Wall and Nene connected for two layups in the final minute, including the decisive score with a half-second remaining, to deliver an 86-84 victory over the Miami Heat.
“It was a great pass. He found me there. Fortunately it was the winning shot,” said Nene, who scored eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter to help the Wizards (17-46) win three games in a in a row for the first time this season. The Wizards also became just the third NBA team to record wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Miami this season, and the only one with wins in Miami and Chicago.
“That’s good. No playoffs, but that’s good. Those are big wins,” Wall said after recording his 14th double-double of the season with 13 points with 13 assists.
Of course, the Wizards didn’t get the Bulls or the Heat at full strength. The Bulls didn’t have Luol Deng and Derrick Rose for Washington’s 87-84 win on Monday. Saturday, the Heat was without LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who sat all but three minutes after dislocating his left index finger in the first quarter when it was caught in Jordan Crawford’s jersey.
For a Wizards team that has been on the wrong side of good fortune, it can’t spend any time upset that the Heat (45-18) decided to use Washington’s only visit to American Airlines Arena as an opportunity to give some of its standouts a rest. The absence of Miami’s three all-stars didn’t exactly give the Wizards an advantage, but probably made it even.
“They are a great team,” said Cartier Martin, who came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points for Washington. “Even without the guys that didn’t play, they are still the Miami Heat.”
Fans unaware of the severity of Wade’s injury started chanting, “We want Wade!” When he was ruled out, James, who was dressed and on the active roster, ran back to the training room to get taped in case of an emergency. He sprinted out of the tunnel with a sleeve on his left arm, ready to play. He sat on the bench without his warmups, but Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra chose not to go to him.
“I was thinking, start of the second half, he was coming back to play. I’ll take the win,” Wall said. “We don’t underestimate no team, even if their stars are out, because everybody is here for a reason. They are in the NBA because they can play and the Heat showed that.”
The Wizards built a 57-43 lead when Kevin Seraphin (17 points) made jump hooks on consecutive possessions, but they couldn’t hold on for very long. The Heat went on a 27-9 run over the next 10 minutes to take a 70-66 lead when former Wizard Mike Miller (16 points) connected on consecutive three-pointers and forced Coach Randy Wittman to call timeout. A giddy James ran over to Miller and leaned down to slap five with him.
Wall scored 11 points in the first half, getting most of his scoring opportunities on fast-break dunks and layups. But Wall came up limping after making a layup near the end of the first half and landing awkwardly on his right ankle. He went to the locker room afterward but returned in the second half, looking just fine as he caught an alley-oop from Crawford for a dunk.
Wall didn’t score again for the rest of the game, but he was content serving as a setup man, delivering 10 of his assists in the second half. He assisted on the Wizards’ final nine field goals.
With the game tied in the final minute, Nene grabbed an offensive rebound on a Crawford miss. Wall then dribbled down the clock, drove into the lane and passed to Nene when he drew in the defense. Nene dunked with 46 seconds remaining to give the Wizards an 84-82 lead. Playing his second game since returning from plantar fasciitis in his left foot, Nene then guarded Miller on the next possession, forcing him into a missed layup.
“That is one of the gifts God gave me to guard outside, but personally, I don’t like that,” Nene said with a laugh.
Wall got the rebound, but Crawford stumbled and lost the ball. Heat point guard Mario Chalmers darted up the floor and missed a layup, but Udonis Haslem soared in behind to rebound the miss and dunk it to tie the score at 84 with four seconds left. Crawford slumped, regretting the play, but Wall and Nene quickly made him forget about it.
Wall inbounded the ball to Nene, who set a gentle screen and slipped into the lane for Wall to thread the needle.
“It was a heck of a find by John and Nene to get it to go down,” Wittman said. “The guys have fought all year long. It’s their persona and it’s a good trait to have, in terms of wins and losses.”