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Wizards look for spark before trip to New Orleans, Miami
The Wizards have faced their fair share of adversity this year, and they head into another week packed with playoff teams on their first three-game losing streak of the season after a tough loss to Indiana on Sunday. No doubt, the absence of John Wall and Kelly Oubre Jr.’s (minor) foot injury are a limiting factor in a part of the season where the team’s played five games in nine days.
While the minutes have started to add up on the starting unit of Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and others, the Wizards have been in nearly every game, with a few shots down the stretch deciding the outcomes. There’s no question that they’ve expected better from the last three games, but they should be encouraged nonetheless by their ability to be competitive against some of the best teams in the NBA with a roster that's been thin at times with injury dating back to before the All-Star break.
This week represents a small reprieve of sorts in the sense that there are three days of rest, perhaps most importantly a two-day break ahead of a road back-to-back in New Orleans and Miami starting Friday. Washington has played at least every other day (with two road/home back-to-backs) since the All-Star Break, and all things considered has weathered the storm admirably. Now, they’ll be able to take a breath or two in between a pair of meetings with the Heat (the first coming Tuesday night in D.C.) with a visit with the Pelicans in-between.
Miami will first come to D.C. to wrap up what’s been a difficult homestand for the Wizards. A good finish to an extended stay in The District would go a long way heading into two off days ahead of a tricky road trip. The good news is that while the Heat are always a difficult matchup for Washington, they’ve been unpredictable lately. Dwyane Wade is back after a deadline deal sent him to where his career began, but while the Heat are still relatively secure in the 8th seed, they haven’t played particularly inspiring basketball lately. Two of their last three wins have come against the struggling Grizzlies and Pistons, respectively, while their latest loss was a 131-113 drubbing by the Lakers.
Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and others make Miami a good defensive team on the whole, and the Heat use that emphasis to control the game to their liking pace-wise (they’re one of the slowest teams in the NBA as far as possessions go). When the pace goes their way, they’re a good bet to win (they’re 20-6 when holding teams under 100 points). It’s how they beat the Wizards at Capital One Arena way back in November.
The other side of Miami's story, however, is that it’s not a prolific offensive team and ranks 28th in the NBA in points per game. The formula to beat the Heat twice this week starts with sound defense that can create opportunities to speed the game up. Washington is dangerous on the break – even without John Wall – and Miami’s defense is far less effective when it can’t set up shop in the half court with Hassan Whiteside protecting the rim.
As for the Wizards’ other opponent this week, the Pelicans will undoubtedly pose the biggest challenge. Simply put, New Orleans has been red hot since before the All-Star break and enters the week on an eight-game winning streak that has them surging up the Western Conference standings (currently in 4th, 1.0 games behind 3rd-seeded Portland).
Over that eight-game span, big man Anthony Davis and Co. have torched opponents to the tune of 126.6 points per game. Davis has scored a mind-boggling 37.3 points per game on the streak to go with 14.8 rebounds, three steals and nearly three blocks per game. Jrue Holiday has been an excellent co-star, scoring 25.9 points and adding 7.5 assists per game over the past eight. Additionally, trade deadline addition Nikola Mirotic has gotten more comfortable in his role, averaging 14.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a Pelican. New Orleans will be hard to beat on its home floor, but it should be noted that the Pelicans will be playing their first game since returning from a four-game trip out West on Friday night.
In the midst of their toughest stretch of the season, a break from playoff-caliber opponents is still a couple of weeks away for the Wizards. It’s a challenging stretch sure to come with some bumps as the playoff race is heating up, but it’s a familiar challenge that they’ve already proven they’re up to with wins over Cleveland, Philadelphia and Milwaukee since the All-Star break. In the big picture, Washington is still just one game behind the 3rd-seed Cavs despite a three-game slide.
The wait for a chance to start anew is never far away in the NBA. For the Wizards, the next opportunity comes Tuesday night.