HEAT 123 - Wizards 107 Recap

The focus following the Miami HEAT’s 123-107 victory over the Washington Wizards was not on the game itself. In fact, Erik Spoelstra seemed more focused on his team pulling together for the final two games of the current road trip, against Minnesota and New Jersey.

“These next two games are as critical as we can be going down the stretch,” he said.

Which is just as well, given that there wasn’t much clear to be read from this quagmire, in which John Wall, Zyrdunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard were all ejected in the first half for an on-court altercation, effectively ruining any rhythm on either side for the evening.

But even with all scheduling considerations made for the second night of a back-to-back, victory aside, the HEAT might not have played a better game than they did the previous night in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Should that matter?

It’s a philosophical question more than anything. There are those who believe strongly in positive momentum headed into the playoffs, to whom seeding and home-court advantage is of the utmost concern. Then there are some who, especially after seeing the Boston Celtics struggle through the second half of the regular season last year only to make it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals, put more faith in a team’s big-picture capabilities over anything that happened in March.

The HEAT, for their part, as LeBron James restated after this game, are concerning themselves primarily with getting better. It sounds cliché because it is, but it’s also truthful. Miami still has its faults and habits – inconsistencies with its offensive execution and a recent lack of defensive effort among the bigger items – and it’s far more important to work on those than worry that a rookie in Jordan Crawford almost shot the Wizards to a win with a career-high 39 points, many on highly contested shots.

“We still have a lot of habits that we’re working [on],” James said.

The problem with that is those habits – and every team in the league succumbs to their own personal weaknesses from time to time – are still getting the better of them.

Against the Cavaliers, the HEAT were dedicated to their offensive process, working the ball around the court and making strong, decisive cuts despite high-percentage shots failing to connect. But the defense was so uncharacteristically suspect that Miami’s big second-half run which almost saved the game was made on the shoulders on a zone defense. And the HEAT almost never play zone.

Much of the offensive aggressiveness remained against Washington, particularly from Chris Bosh, who put up 26 points on 8-of-15 shooting with a number of strong finishes around the rim. But the execution took a small step back as the ball routinely got stuck in one place, the HEAT relying primarily on pick-and-rolls and incredible plays from their offensive talent to sustain them.

They didn’t have to resort to a zone for a 19-5 game-sealing run in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, but much of that positive momentum came from Dwyane Wade’s incredible individual activity (two blocks in the final four minutes). For every well-contested Wizards field-goal attempt, there seemed to be another Washington attempt at the rim.

The Wizards could not sustain what eventually devolved into a one-pass offense, but had they been as crisp as Cleveland the night before, this game may have been a different story.

Perhaps its much ado about nothing. After all, these road back-to-backs are your textbook write-off games. But adamant as the HEAT were in standing strong with the Wizards playing a physical brand of ball – while maintaining composure – that’s consecutive games that come out as a net negative.

Miami won’t dwell on that, but whatever your philosophical take on the situation, it’s clear that they still have significant kinks to work out as the move on to the second half of the year’s final lengthy road trip.