On paper, it’s a mismatch of epic proportions.
The defending champion Miami Heat, who are tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the best record in the NBA [11-3], pay their first visit to Verizon Center Tuesday night against the last-place Wizards, who own the NBA’s worst record at 1-13.
The numbers speak for themselves.
The Heat rank second in the NBA with 104.6 points per game; the Wizards are last at 89.4. The Heat rank first in the league in shooting percentage [49.5] and 3-point shooting [42.5]; the Wizards are last in shooting percentage [40.3] and rank 27th from long range [30.2].
In fact, the Heat’s four leading scorers – LeBron James [24.7 points], Dwyane Wade [19.5], Chris Bosh [19.3] and Ray Allen [13.3] – are all averaging more points than the Wizards’ leading scorer, Jordan Crawford [13.1].
So, how does Randy Wittman plan on taking down the mighty Heat in front of what promises to be an arena full of crazed LeBron fans? With a stone and a slingshot, perhaps?
Actually, Wittman believes that if the Wizards can knock down their open shots, eliminate turnovers and rebound the ball, they can keep pace with the defending champions.
“If we don’t, it’s going to be difficult, there’s no two ways about it,” Wittman said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
With James and Wade leading the way, the Heat loves to push the pace and Wizards rookie Bradley Beal says the Wiz need to embrace that.
“They're probably the fastest team I’ve ever seen in my life,” Beal said. “We're just going to stay with the game plan. We're going to try to take things away from them and turn them into jump shooters.”
Beal said the Wizards don’t mind getting into a track meet with the Heat, saying they are just as capable of playing a transition games.
“We don't want to play halfcourt,” he said. “We love to play fast. It’s going to be a fast game, I can guarantee you that. It may get a little sloppy at times with guys just going up and down the floor.
“We're not going to change the way we play for them. We're going to stick to what we're doing and make them try to stop us as well. We're not going to back down. We're going to come at them hard.”
If the Wizards hope to keep pace with the Heat, they’ll need to avoid turnovers while creating a slew of them with hawkish team defense. The Wizards are averaging 16.2 turnovers per game, compared to the Heat’s 13.9.
“If you don’t turn it over you’ve got a good chance, absolutely,” Wittman said. “You’ve got two guys -- Wade and LeBron – and LeBron, with the size he is, if he gets his hands on a turnover, you’re not stopping it. Sam with Dwyane. That has to be our No. 1 objective: taking care of the ball.”
Without John Wall for the 15th straight game and with Nene playing only a limited role, the Wizards are going to need herculean defensive efforts by Emeka Okafor and Kevin Seraphin if they hope to contain the Heat’s physical presence down low.
Swingman Martell Webster said the Wizards can’t get intimidated by the star power of the Heat or the disparity of the two teams’ records. At least not of they want to climb out of the 1-13 valley they dug for themselves.
“We’ve got to treat every game like we’re playing defending champions,” Webster said. “That’s how the great teams play. We’re not going to win every game, but if you’re preparing yourself like you’re going to war, Game 7 of the playoffs, more times than not, you’re going to go out and compete and leave with a win.
“That’s how our mind and our preparation has to be from here on out. We don’t have that luxury of turning the switch on and off, cruising through games. We can’t do that. We have to go out like we’re playing the Miami Heat every game.”