Miami HEAT at Washington Wizards Game Preview

The Miami HEAT face the Washington Wizards Saturday night at Verizon Center. The HEAT defeated the Wizards 112-101 in their last meeting on December 12. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 6:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: Were there any positives to take away from a tough loss in Toronto?

Couper Moorhead: Unlike the win at Charlotte, when Miami set the single-game franchise record by hitting 21 threes, the offense never quite got going against the Raptors. Some of that was the team missing reasonably good looks, but Toronto is as versatile a defensive team as there is in the league and they more than did their part as far as staying in front of the ball and contesting. The HEAT, too, did their job defensively limiting the Raptors to 41 percent shooting and less than 40 points in the paint, even forcing DeMar DeRozan into 32 shots in order to get to 38. And the competitive spirit, as always, was there after Miami overcame multiple double-digit deficits to tie the game down the stretch.

So what sunk Miami, other than the relatively poor shooting night (until a late flurry of Wayne Ellington threes)? It was the 19 turnovers. Passes going out of bounds or otherwise off target, offensive fouls, traveling – whatever form they took they eventually cost Miami the chance to play for the win in the final seconds. Those turnovers weren’t there against Charlotte, either.

Joe Beguiristain: There were. Despite a slow start to the game and double-digit deficits in both the second and third quarters, the HEAT climbed back and tied it up at 82 with 4:43 left to play. While James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside responded well after halftime, it was Wayne Ellington who led Miami with nine points in the fourth quarter. As usual, Ellington moved very well off the ball to get open and didn’t need much space to get a shot off.

On the defensive end, the HEAT competed hard and made things tough on the Raptors’ dynamic backcourt even though DeMar DeRozan finished with 38 points. DeRozan started off red-hot, but shot just 4-of-14 in the second half thanks to Josh Richardson’s hard-nosed defense. Kyle Lowry, meanwhile, was held to just 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting overall in large part due to Rodney McGruder and Tyler Johnson.

Although Miami fell short in the end, the team has shown an ability to bounce back from tough losses. We’ll see how they respond on the second night of a back-to-back. 

2: What does the playoff picture currently look like?

Couper: The HEAT sit in the No. 9 spot, a game back of both Chicago and Indiana, two games back of Milwaukee and three back of Atlanta. With Chicago owning the head-to-head tiebreaker that makes the Pacers the most likely target for Miami to overtake.

Saturday is going to be a massively important day. Miami can’t be eliminated with a loss, but if Chicago wins at Brooklyn and Indiana wins at Orlando then a loss would essentially put all the power in the hands of those teams above them. Even now Miami doesn’t control its own destiny and will be relying on the Bulls and Pacers to lose at least one more game the rest of the way. 

Whatever happens Saturday night, Cleveland and Washington (again) loom in the final two games of the season, and with both teams fighting for playoff seeding there is currently not an expectation that they will rest anyone (subject to change, of course).

Joe: With the loss on Friday night, the HEAT are now one game back of both the Bulls and Pacers, which are 39-40. Remember, Miami owns the tiebreaker over Indiana, but Chicago possesses it over the HEAT. As such, Miami’s most likely route to the postseason would be by supplanting Indiana within these next few games.

Of the three teams fighting for the final two playoff spots, the HEAT have the toughest remaining schedule. While there are better predicaments to be in, the fact of the matter is Miami closes its season with two home games. As I’ve stated multiple times in the past, it’s all about the HEAT taking care of their own business.

3: What unique challenges does Washington present Saturday night?

Couper: Speed. Only three teams get a higher percentage of overall points off fast-breaks than Washington, so with Miami playing on a road back-to-back there will be no respite in the open floor. Getting back in transition is usually not an issue the HEAT have for long periods of time, but they’ll have to keep their turnovers down as well.

You already know about John Wall and Bradley Beal and how those two have powered Washington to one of the best second-half performances in the conference (32-15 since January 1st), but where the Wizards shine now is in their depth. Otto Porter Jr. has taken a step forward, Bojan Bogdanovic was acquired at the trade deadline to offer a solid combination of size and scoring, and Ian Mahinmi is now firmly in the rotation after missing most of the first half of the season. That means Washington can now throw a combo of Marcin Gortat and Mahinmi at Whiteside throughout the course of the game, though Whiteside tends to play Gortat well.

The major question right now is whether or not Markieff Morris can play after sitting out the previous game with a sore ankle. With Morris out, Washington has started Jason Smith at power forward and it was Smith who struggled to defend James Johnson earlier this season. Granted that was when Johnson was a surprise insert at center and the spacing is different at the four, but Morris’ availability could have a matchup-related trickle-down effect either way. 

Joe: Much like Toronto, the Wizards have one heck of a backcourt that can beat you in a bunch of different ways. While Miami has defeated Washington in the previous two meetings this season, the Wizards are a much better team now than they were back when the HEAT last faced them on December 12. For starters, John Wall and Bradley Beal have meshed better than they ever have before, and the results speak for themselves. Since December 26, Washington has gone 35-15 with the fifth-best offensive rating in the league (110.6). In addition to Wall and Beal, Otto Porter Jr. has also had a career year. In fact, the former Georgetown Hoya is shooting 43.7 percent from downtown on 4.3 attempts per game. That’s incredible.

On the flip side of the ball, the Wizards have struggled recently (111.2 defensive rating in their 24 games since the All-Star Break, tied for 29th in the league), but they still make the opposition commit a lot of turnovers. Since the break, Washington has forced opponents into 15.1 turnovers per game, which ranks the team among the top five in that category.

Even so, the HEAT should be able to find some success offensively as long as their ball movement is on-point.  

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Highlights:

December 12-Wizards at HEAT

November 19-HEAT at Wizards

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT are 38-41 on the season.  
  • The Wizards have won two straight and enter the contest at 48-31.
  • Hassan Whiteside leads Miami in rebounds (14.1) and blocks (2.1) per game.
  • John Wall leads Washington in points (23.2), assists (10.7) and steals (2.0) per contest.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 105.0 (17)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.0 (5)
  • Wizards Offense: 108.6 (8)
  • Wizards Defense: 106.9 (20)

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