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Wizards begin four-game road trip Wednesday against Heat
Coming off a win over the Pistons, the Wizards (14-28) take on the Heat (30-13) at AmericanAirlines Arena at 7:30 P.M. in the first game of a four-game road trip. The matchup marks the teams’ third of the season with Miami and Washington splitting the previous two games. The Wizards won the last meeting 123-105 behind 20-point performances from Ian Mahinmi, Garrison Mathews and Jordan McRae.
AmericanAirlines Arena | 7:30 P.M. | NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Isaiah Thomas, G – Gary Payton II, G – Bradley Beal, F – Isaac Bonga, C – Ian Mahinmi
Heat: G – Kendrick Nunn, G – Duncan Robinson, F – Jimmy Butler, F – Bam Adebayo, C – Meyers Leonard
Wizards: Rui Hachimura (groin injury – out), Garrison Mathews (sprained right ankle – out), Anzejs Pasecniks (sprained left ankle – out), Moritz Wagner (sprained left ankle – out), John Wall (left Achilles rehab – out)
Heat: Jimmy Butler (right hip soreness – available), Goran Dragic (right knee bruise – available), Duncan Robinson (right ankle sprain – available), Justise Winslow (lower back bone bruise – out)
Beal finding his groove since return from injury
After missing five consecutive games due to lower right leg soreness, Bradley Beal has been back in the lineup for the last four games. The Wizards went 0-3 in his first three games back – capped by a loss to the Toronto Raptors in which Beal tied his season low with 14 points. On Monday against Detroit, however, Beal was back to his old self, playing 33 minutes (up from the 25.8 he averaged in his first three games back) on his way to 29 points and six assists. The game was Beal’s 13th this season with at least 25 points and five assists, trailing only Trae Young among Eastern Conference players.
The Wizards were without Beal for their December 30 win over Miami, part of what allowed for the outburst of offensive production from Jordan McRae, Garrison Mathews and Ian Mahinmi. Beal played well in his one matchup against Miami earlier in the season, scoring 23 points and totaling eight assists on December 6, but the Heat have done well slowing down the Wizards star in recent years. Coming into this season, Beal had been held below 20 points in three of his last five games against Miami.
Smith stays consistent through numerous role changes
Ish Smith was signed by the Wizards last offseason to bring a veteran presence to the rotation and was described by Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard as being “capable of both scoring and distributing the ball while playing at the pace we want to see this season.” Smith has been just that and more for the Wizards – in a role that has likely exceeded what the Wizards decision makers envisioned. Smith’s duties have fluctuated as Isaiah Thomas and others have been in and out of the lineup due to injury. Through it all, Smith has been steady and productive all season. He started the first four games of the season, averaging 9.0 points and 4.0 assists, then went back to the bench for the next 14 games. Thomas strained his calf in early December, forcing Smith back into the starting lineup – a stretch in which he averaged 15.0 points and 5.8 assists per game, including a pair of consecutive eight-assists games.
Aside from another pair of started on December 23 and 26, Smith has settled into his role off the bench, but his production hasn’t waned. Smith scored a career-high 32 points against the Nuggets on January 4 and followed that up with a 27-point performance against the Celtics two days later. In his last five games, Smith is averaging 9.0 points and 7.0 assists per game. While the peaks of Smith’s scoring this season have been thrilling, his best contribution to the team has been his consistency as a playmaker for his teammates, whether he plays as a starter (4.6 assists per game) or a reserve (4.7).
Clashing styles meet in Miami
While the Wizards and Heat both rank in the top 12 in offensive rating, each team goes about their offensive production in very different ways. Washington ranks fourth in the league in pace and ranks second in the league in field goal attempts per game. While smaller aspects of the team’s approach have shifted in dealing with different injuries throughout the season, one thing has remained the same for the Wizards: playing fast. The Heat, on the other hand, are one of the slowest teams in the league, ranking 26th in pace and last in field goals attempted per game – and the style works for them. Miami sits at second in the league – just 0.1% behind Milwaukee – in true shooting percentage at 58.6%. While much of the offense runs through Jimmy Butler, who averages 20.2 points and 6.4 assists per game, the Heat’s shot distribution is incredibly balanced. Six players average over 10.0 shots per game, but none more than 14.0. Look for both teams to try to establish their own pace of play early on in Wednesday’s game.