There was no Cinderella story for the Washington Wizards in South Beach tonight, as they surrendered 21 unanswered points to the Miami Heat in the final six minutes to fall 99-71.
It was a tough game for a Washington team who have shown they can be scrappy at times throughout the season. They certainly have their flaws, but in a December matchup against the Heat at the Verizon Center, they showed they have the ability to play with and beat almost any team in the league. Consistency though, is their biggest struggle.
There is one play in the fourth quarter which really sums up the Wizards’ luck in this game. Washington’s Kevin Seraphin grabbed an offensive rebound and looked to kick it out high to set up perhaps a three-point second chance shot. While passing to the top of the arc, Miami’s Ray Allen intercepted the pass, took off and was fouled on the other end and made the basket. Allen hit his free throw and from a second-chance opportunity and a chance forWashington to cut into the lead, it turned into three points for Miami.
Washington was not far out of the game at that point in time and it really killed any chance for them to comeback in the contest. There were certainly highlights for the Wizards though, despite the loss. Martell Webster hit a clutch shot-clocking beating shot in the third quarter and rookie Bradley Beal continued his impressive January with a big-ups dunk towards the end of the first half. At the end of the day though, they just were not able to get the number of explosive plays a team needs to beat Miami at home.
Despite having yet another rough night shooting the ball, only connecting on 36-percent of their shots, the Wizards cut down on the turnovers. Those pesky little giveaways have been a key part to this team’s struggles for the last few weeks and for the first time in distant memory, the Wizards had fewer than ten turnovers, with only eight. More importantly, they gave the ball away fewer times than Miami, who had nine, which is a sign they played a little tighter with the ball.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing with this Washington Wizards team though, is their inability to sink free throws. Free throws are free points, they are given to you, they are the least stressful shot in basketball. Yet, Washington continues to miss them. Of their 14 trips to the line, Washington only walked away with points seven times. Sink those seven and while they would not have won the game, it certainly could have given the team more confidence in key points of the contest.
Seraphin was the high scorer for Washington with 14 points, while Cartier Martin and Webster contributed 13 and 10 respectively. A little puzzling was Nene’s performance. With only five points in 22 minutes, the normal rock of Washington’s scoring was a disappointing one for six from the floor.
The Wizards return home to Washington tomorrow to take on the Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder at the Verizon Center. If Washington hopes to shock the other NBA Finals contestant at home, much like they shocked Miami, they are going to have to shoot better. It can be done, but the Wizards need to shoot better within five feet and continue to protect the rock.