Wizards take on Heat Sunday in D.C.
The Wizards (23-39) host the Heat (40-23) on Sunday at 7:00 P.M. at Capital One Arena in the teams’ fourth and final matchup of the season. Washington is coming off a win over the Hawks on Friday night while Miami looks to bounce back from a loss to New Orleans that snapped a four-game winning streak.
Capital One Arena | 7:00 P.M. | NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Shabazz Napier, G – Bradley Beal, G – Isaac Bonga, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Thomas Bryant
Heat: G – Kendrick Nunn, G – Duncan Robinson, F – Jimmy Butler, F – Derrick Jones Jr., C – Bam Adebayo
Wizards: Jerome Robinson (left Achilles soreness – out), Ish Smith (left hamstring tightness – out), John Wall (left Achilles rehab – out)
Heat: Jae Crowder (concussion protocol – out), Tyler Herro (right ankle soreness – out), Meyers Leonard (left ankle sprain – out)
Beal’s improved 3-point shooting key to recent run
Amidst the best season of his career and with defenses keying in one him every night, Bradley Beal continues to find ways to improve his game. Beal’s 34.2% usage percentage is the highest of his career by a wide margin and has helped him reach career highs in points (30.5) and assists (6.1) per game. It has, however, taken a toll on his efficiency, as it does for many of the league’s highest usage players. Regarded early in his career as one of the league’s better 3-pointer shooters, his percentage from deep took a dip this season as defenses locked in on his as the primary threat every game. With less space to move and fewer catch-and-shoot opportunities, Beal’s 3-point shooting wasn’t up to par with his career average. That was until, as Beal says, he re-worked his shot in the last couple weeks.
“I honestly kind of changed the way I was shooting, from last year, even the year before,” Beal said after Friday’s win. “I was very narrow instead of being wide based like I always am. I'm a lot more balanced and it's more consistent.”
In the last eight games, Beal is averaging 5.4 made threes per game on 51.2% from 3-point range and is averaging 39.1 points per game. Beal has come out firing as of late. Against Atlanta, he made his first three 3-pointers of the game. Against Portland, his first four. And against Golden State last Sunday, he hit his first five 3-pointers of the night.
Minus Smith, Wizards will rely on everyone for playmaking
After the Wizards enjoyed a run of good health, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks announced a setback prior to Friday’s game against Atlanta. Ish Smith, who has now missed the last two games with left hamstring tightness, will be “re-evaluated in a week or so.” Brooks said the injury first manifested itself Tuesday night against Sacramento. Smith has been a steadying force for the Wizards rotation all season, contributing in both starting and reserve roles, and hadn’t missed a game prior to this injury. He’s averaged 10.5 points on 45.1% shooting and 4.8 assists this season.
Friday against the Hawks, with Shabazz Napier the only remaining true point guard on the roster, Washington got some playmaking from everywhere. Napier, Troy Brown Jr. and Jerome Robinson all recorded five-plus assists while Bradley Beal dished out four of his own. Washington’s 66.7% assist percentage ranked 15th among their 62 games this season, despite having to overcome an even greater hurdle in the fourth quarter. After taking a blow to the face late in the third quarter, Napier exited the game and did not return, leaving Beal and Brown Jr. to manage most of the ball handling. Washington’s efficiency fell off slightly in the fourth, but put up enough production to hold onto the win. Napier is not expected to miss any time going forward.
Against the Heat, the Wizards will also be without Robinson, who is dealing with left Achilles soreness.
Miami’s defense leads recent success
Prior to Friday night’s loss to the resurgent Pelicans, the Heat had won four straight games, all against teams slated to qualify for the postseason. Of those four wins, the most impressive was their dismantling of the league-leading Bucks. Milwaukee entered the game tops in the league in points per game (119.6) and was held by Miami to just 89, the Bucks’ lowest output of the season and only their second game scoring less than 100 points. Despite the Heat’s defensive prowess this season, the Wizards have found bits of success against Miami, scoring 120-plus points in two of their three matchups this season.
Miami’s success starts with Jimmy Butler, one of just six players in the league averaging at least 20.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game this season. Their success has sustained, however, because of the team’s depth. In the last 10 games, the Heat have five players averaging over 15.0 points per game. Over the course of the entire season, they have eight players averaging in double figures. One of those key rotation pieces, though, is Tyler Herro, who has missed the last 14 games with an ankle injury and will not play Sunday against the Wizards.