Washington Football

Heat say things will change, and change soon

201212062224806582056-p2.jpeg

Heat say things will change, and change soon

MIAMI (AP) LeBron James and four teammates chatted for several minutes under a basket after the Miami Heat finished practice on Friday afternoon, each player sporting a serious look for the entirety of the conversation.

For the first time this season, the reigning NBA champions are dealing with some real trouble.

Back-to-back losses - at Washington on Tuesday, then by 20 points at home against a New York Knicks team that didn't even have Carmelo Anthony on Thursday - have soured the Heat mood. Add that to some poor defensive numbers and Miami already needing six late rallies before closing out wins so far this season, and it's easy to see why no one seemed to be laughing at work on Friday.

``When you win everything's great. When you lose everything's bad,'' Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. ``That's how it works.''

As Wade spoke, James was chatting about 50 feet away with Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and James Jones, a few of them sometimes gesturing at spots on the court as if to mimic how a play is or is not supposed to work. Typically, when the Heat are done with their actual practice, it's a light-hearted time, one filled with shooting contests and things of that nature.

That wasn't the case on Friday.

``There is a cloud over our team because we're not defending like we know we're capable of defending,'' James said. ``We have some room for improvement. The good thing is we can be great. But right now, we're not good. We're not very good right now as a team and we've got to get to that point.''

Miami's next chance to start getting to that point comes Saturday, when the Heat play host to New Orleans.

The Heat saw the Knicks make 18 shots - on 44 tries - from 3-point range on Thursday night, which became the latest entry on a list of events where Miami believes opponents have thrived simply by getting up to play against last season's champions.

So far this year, the Heat have seen opponents score at least 100 points 11 times in 17 games. Last season, that happened 16 times in 66 regular-season games.

Some of the highlights, or lowlights, include the following:

- Washington scored 105 points against Miami on Tuesday, the most the Wizards have managed in regulation against anyone all season, and remember, they had one win all year entering that game.

- Wayne Ellington made seven 3-pointers for Memphis in a win over Miami on Nov. 11. He's 3 for 21 from beyond the arc since, entering Friday.

- Raymond Felton had a season-high 27 points, and tied a career-high with six 3-pointers in the Knicks' win Thursday.

``Never seen anything like this,'' Bosh said of how opponents have at times scored at will against Miami. ``And I've played on some bad defensive teams. We're not one.''

The most troubling defensive stat of all for the Heat is likely this: Miami entered Friday 23rd in points allowed per game, after finishing fourth in the league in that stat last season. The Heat have allowed the third-highest number of 3-pointers in the NBA so far, nothing new after giving up the second-most makes from beyond the arc a season ago.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra often speaks of habits and the human condition, and he was asked Friday if Miami's struggles are simply because the team knows the playoffs are still four months away.

``If that is a reality, then that is a major problem,'' Spoelstra said. ``But we have an opportunity to correct it, you know, right now. If it goes too long, what it becomes is a tendency. Goes longer than that, it becomes a habit. If it continues, by the time you get to the playoffs, that's who you are. So that's what we're going to change right now.''

James insisted that the regular-season-is-irrelevant argument doesn't apply to Miami.

``Not for me,'' James said. ``It's not for me. My motivation is well beyond hoisting one trophy. I'm not taking any shortcuts to get to that point, so I can't allow my teammates to take shortcuts. We've got to be better. I've got to be better. It's that simple.''

For two years, ever since Wade and James and Bosh decided to play together in Miami, the Heat have been surrounded by what they call ``noise.'' Everything the Heat have done, the good and especially the bad, have been scrutinized. Winning last season's title, they figured, would relieve perhaps a tiny bit of that noise - that is, until the first rough patch of this season arrived.

It's now here. And some inside the Heat locker room think that the extra motivation might not be a bad thing right now.

``We understand what it takes to win,'' Haslem said. ``We understand that we have what it takes to win. But not performing at a high enough level defensively, it's just a shame. We've got to fix it. And we're going to fix it.''

Quick Links

Burning Questions: Which Washington Football Team player should we be talking more about?

Burning Questions: Which Washington Football Team player should we be talking more about?

As training camp continues to build, JP Finlay and Pete Hailey will answer burning questions related to the Washington Football Team.

Up next: Which player should we be talking more about as the season nears?

JP's pick: Landon Collins

This might seem odd, but one of Washington’s most expensive players is flying under the radar during the transition to the Ron Rivera era. 

That would be Landon Collins. 

An All Pro in 2016 with the Giants, Washington signed him to a long-term deal last year that included $45 million guaranteed. He was good last season, but not great, and he’s being paid to be great. 

When Rivera or Jack Del Rio get questions about their defense this fall, most center around a stocked defensive front or questions about cornerback depth. 

To break through and be a dominant defensive unit, Washington needs more out of Collins, too.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TALK PODCAST

Pete's pick: Montez Sweat

Thanks to being drafted alongside a prolific college quarterback, Montez Sweat was overlooked heading into his debut season. Now, because of Chase Young's presence, he's similarly sneaking into Year 2.

That doesn't lessen his importance to the defense, however.

For Washington's unit to be as ferocious as many hope it will be, all three of their pass rushers — Young, Ryan Kerrigan and Sweat — need to do damage.

Despite not having taken an NFL snap yet, it's almost expected that Young will feast right away. Kerrigan, meanwhile, is aging and coming off of his first experience with injuries as a pro, but his track record speaks for itself. Sweat is the one who feels like the X-factor in that trio.

He's very quiet, he's amongst the organization's deepest position and he's got a ways to go before justifying his 2019 draft position. But Sweat came on in the second half of the schedule as a rookie and if he keeps that up, he'll start drawing more attention  — both from fans and opponents.

MORE WASHINGTON FOOTBALL NEWS

Quick Links

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he has no problem with Moe Wagner after headbutt

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he has no problem with Moe Wagner after headbutt

Despite seeking him out after the whistle and headbutting him with force to earn an ejection from Tuesday night's game, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo says he has no problem with Wizards big man Moe Wagner. He explained the move as general frustration boiling over.

"I don’t have nothing against Wagner, it wasn’t just him. It was just, like, in my mind all these games I’ve played guys hitting me so I lost it for a second," Antetokounmpo told reporters. 

He went on to express regret over the incident, which is certain to result in a fine and possibly a suspension. His explanation, though, runs a bit counter to how the Wizards saw it all.

Wagner was not made available to the media, but his teammates weighed in and all seemed to believe it stemmed from something that happened between them earlier this season.

"They have something in the past, I don't even know," Rui Hachimura said.

"That was just some blood from back then," Ish Smith said. 

They seemed to be referencing the Feb. 24 meeting between the teams when Antetokounmpo fouled out in only 25 minutes, and with some help from Wagner. That night, Wagner gave a quote that could also have been said after this game: "He’s a really good player. I want him out of the game, obviously."

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE WIZARDS TALK PODCAST

On Tuesday, Antetokounmpo again exited early against the Wizards, and again the Bucks held on for the win, just like they did in February. Still, him leaving gave the Wizards a bit of a break. 

The reigning MVP had been dominating with 12 points and nine rebounds in 10 minutes.

"I'm not saying he's a dirty player, but he's good at those little things," Hachimura said of Wagner. "Giannis was actually out for the game. It was really big [for] us. He changed the whole game, actually. Moe's a great guy."

RELATED: GIANNIS EJECTED FOR HEADBUTTING MOE WAGNER

Wagner has a tendency to get under the skin of his opponents. He has had run-ins with other big men, most notably Joel Embiid.

He did his part, but the Bucks still had enough to beat the Wizards. Now the question is whether it was a pyrrhic victory with a potential suspension for Antetokounmpo coming next.

"There's no place for that. It's unfortunate," head coach Scott Brooks said. "It's unfortunate that it happened. I'm sure the league is going to look at it and make a decision. Fortunately for [the Bucks], it's not a playoff game [up next]. I'm sure he's probably going to miss a couple of games."

Stay connected to the Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: