Washington Wizards at Miami HEAT Game Preview
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the Washington Wizards Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the Wizards 110-102 in their last meeting on April 12. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: With both their six-game homestand and six-game road trips for the season completed, where do the HEAT stand right now?
Couper Moorhead: As Erik Spoelstra noted following Tuesday’s practice, Miami’s defense is trending in the right direction. Miami had fallen into the bottom third of the league after the first couple of weeks, but after a remarkable defensive performance last week against the Golden State Warriors they seemed to get things back on track at that end. Now, Miami is No. 11 in the league, allowing 102.6 points per 100 possessions – a better defensive rating than they had last season when they finished No. 5 overall. And given that they’re pushing opponents to the middle of the floor, by design, and keeping them off the three-point line, the shot profile supports the success they’ve had.
The other side of the floor is a different, but similar story. Different because Miami is No. 24 in offense, scoring 100.5 per 100 possessions, which hasn’t been helped by one of the higher turnover rates in the league. The good news, however, is that the shot profile on that end remains strong as the team leads the league in corner threes generated, they get into the paint and they generate open threes. That their percentages on catch-and-shoot opportunities is below expectations means we might be able to expend a positive trend there, eventually. Being a Top 10 team in overall shot quality (expected effective field-goal percentage) doesn’t guarantee anything, but remember that Miami had a similar profile in the first half of last season. The numbers took a bit to come around that time, but they did.
Joe Beguiristain: Let’s first note how weird it is that the HEAT’s longest homestand and road trip of the season are both done before Thanksgiving. That hasn’t been the case in years past.
In any event, Miami has definitely improved on the defensive end of late, giving up just 98.3 points per 100 possessions in its last seven games. In particular during that span, the HEAT have been elite at limiting teams’ effectiveness in the paint. Of course, a lot of that has to do with Josh Richardson at the point of attack and Hassan Whiteside at the rim.
Offensively, things have been a bit tougher. While most of Miami’s ball-handlers are getting into the paint and either finishing for themselves or spraying it out to open teammates, the team just isn’t converting those outside looks at the moment. That said, the HEAT looked very good in the first half against the Pistons on Sunday, as they shot 11-of-23 from deep thanks to sharp ball movement. Although the hot shooting didn’t hold up after halftime, Miami’s prowess through the first two quarters proved the team could get the job done.
2: After a slow start to last season, what has been behind the success of the Wizards since then?
Couper: They’re healthy and they have one of the best starting lineups in the league. Washington turned in a Top 10 offensive season last year and are No. 5 as of Tuesday afternoon in large part because their first unit routinely is one of the best scoring groups in the game. Last year, in over 1,300 minutes together, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat scored 111.9 points per 100 possessions, defended at a Top 5 level and had a net rating of +8.1 per 100.
This year that same success has continued, with that group scoring 116.9 points per 100. But Morris wasn’t available at the start of the season, forcing Kelly Oubre in a starting position as Washington went small and . . . still had one of the best five-man groups in the league. It helps that players like Beal, Porter (now one of the best shooters in the league) and Oubre have all made great strides recently, but having one of the best starting units in the league is always going to be a recipe for success if players stay relatively healthy.
Joe: It sounds simple, but Bradley Beal’s emergence really turned things around for the Wizards. In his first four seasons, Beal was plagued by multiple injuries and missed a bunch of games. That all changed last year, as the former Florida Gator played a career-high 77 games and averaged a career-high 23.1 points per contest. If that wasn’t enough, Beal also proved his worth in the playoffs and kept things moving whenever John Wall was struggling. As a result of Beal being healthy and available for nearly all of last season, both he and Wall really strengthened their on-court chemistry.
That has carried over into the early stages of this year, as the duo has tallied a 13.3 net rating in 360 minutes played. Individually, Beal has been deadly from less than eight-feet out (54-of-76 shooting, 71.1 percent) and from the left-wing three (11-of-26 shooting, 42.3 percent). Wall, meanwhile, is among the league’s elite in drives per game (16.8) and shooting percentage on those looks (54.8 percent).
It’ll take all hands on deck for the HEAT to stop those two.
3: Does Miami’s approach to Washington – how to defend them, matchups to focus on, etc. – change given that this is a two-game series of sorts?
Couper: In one-game samples you can see wildly different performances in contrast to your expectations, but the more teams play each other in a short period of time makes it more likely that numbers will adhere to projection. With that in mind, this is going to be a fascinating matchup as far as shot profiles go with Washington fourth in the league with 41.4 percent of their shots coming from mid-range and Miami second in the league forcing 39.4 percent of opponent shots in that same zone. Even better, both teams are equally adept at contesting and/or making those shots as they are at creating and/or forcing them.
In other words, the Wizards are generally more than willing to take the shots that Miami’s defense is more than willing to allow. Now we get two games to see who that benefits the most.
Also, keep an eye on Hassan Whiteside. Marcin Gortat has historically been a good matchup for Whiteside, and Whiteside’s performance against Washington last April as Miami was desperately trying to earn a playoff spot might have been the best game of his career.
Joe: I don’t think it changes all that much. Although a home-and-home is unique, Miami will try to stick to its principles regardless. Of course, if something doesn’t work Wednesday, the team will change things up on Friday.
As James Johnson said after practice on Tuesday, “It’s the same challenge for every team. Just be detailed, make sure you’re inspiring your teammates and don’t be an energy vampire.”
Speaking of energy, the HEAT will have to be active from the jump on both ends of the floor. Not only does Washington boast a Top 5 offense, but it also forces the opposition to commit the third-most turnovers in the league. As such, 18.1 percent of the Wizards’ points come off turnovers.
Needless to say, Miami’s ball security will be of the utmost importance in these next two matchups against Washington.
- The HEAT have won five straight against the Wizards.
- Miami has shot at least 45 percent from the field in its last 14 games against Washington.
- Okaro White (left foot injury) and Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) are out.
- The Wizards have won three straight and enter the contest at 8-5.
- Bradley Beal leads Washington in scoring at 23.8 points per game.
- HEAT Offense: 100.5 (24)
- HEAT Defense: 102.6 (10)
- Wizards Offense: 108.0 (5)
- Wizards Defense: 103.1 (12)