Nationals

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

Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

NEW YORK – A few constants remain during this wayward Nationals season. One is Max Scherzer.

Scherzer comes into Tuesday leading the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts. He's second in strikeouts per nine innings and third in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Scherzer's 3.72 ERA is well above his average of 2.71 since arriving in Washington in 2015. However, his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is a league-leading 2.45, showing he has been victimized by bad defense more than bad pitching.

He hopped on a pop-up edition of The Racing Presidents podcast Tuesday in New York. Sitting in the visitors dugout a day ahead of another matchup with 2018 Cy Young Award Jacob deGrom, Scherzer touched on lighter topics, like his selection of Dr. Dre's "Still Dre" as his walkup song, and addressed who is responsible for the Nationals being seven games under .500 the last year-plus.

We're all responsible," Scherzer said. "When you wear a hat and jersey that says Nationals on it, we're all in the same position. It's frustrating to not have a winning record. It's frustrating not to be winning as a team. [Since] I've been here, we've won a couple division titles and you know that feeling of what it's like to win. You know you have the core group of players who have won here in the past that can win here again. It's just a matter of figuring out what the right chemistry is and going out there and getting it done."

Scherzer is in his 12th major-league season. He's made at least 30 starts for 10 consecutive seasons. One of the reasons for his lack of injuries and durability is not because he goes through extensive recuperation during the offseason. Instead, Scherzer keeps pushing both his arm and body. 

"I try to find a way to continue to do more, to take more on my body even as I age," Scherzer said.

And, about that walkup song, which is part-protest, part-comeback song? He was out to dinner with reliever Aaron Barrett when it popped on and Barrett suggested it as this year's entrance music.

So, click below to listen to everything Scherzer had to say in our exclusive interview. Also, don't forget to download, rate and subscribe to The Racing Presidents podcast. We're with you after every game and with marquee interviews and insight you can't find elsewhere.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

bruno_fernando.png
USA Today Sports Images

2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Bruno Fernando

School: Maryland
Position: Center
Age: 20 (turns 21 in August)
Height: 6-10
Weight: 237
Wingspan: 7-3
Max vertical: 33.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 13.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.9 bpg, 60.7 FG% (5.1/8.4), 30.0 3PT% (0.1/0.3), 77.9 FT%

Player comparison: Jusuf Nurkic, Bam Adebayo

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 24th, NBADraft.net 12th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 28th, Ringer 37th

5 things to know:

*Fernando tested the NBA draft waters last year before returning to school and clearly helped his stock by doing so. He went from a likely second round pick to someone who could fall in the lottery. Fernando is ranked in most mock drafts as the third-best big man in this draft behind Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes.

*He is one of the best rebounders in this class. He averaged 10.9 boards per game as a sophomore and had five games of 15 or more. That includes a 19-rebound performance against Nebraska on Feb. 6. Fernando is a strong, physical forward so there is reason to believe those skills will translate to the next level.

*Concerns about Fernando include his lack of an outside shot. He attempted only 13 threes in college and did most of his damage around the rim. But the potential for Fernando to become a reliable scorer in the NBA appear to be there. He has soft touch around the rim and can finish with power.

*Defensively, Fernando needs some work. He has the physical tools with his size and long arms, and he averaged 1.9 blocks per game in college, but some evaluatiors criticize his defensive instincts and discipline. As long as Fernando can block shots and rebound in the NBA, he should be fine on that end of the floor.

*Fernando is originally from the country of Angola and has played for their national team in several international tournaments. Angola basketball is famous for being the subject of one of Charles Barkley's most memorable quotes. During the 1992 Olympics, he said of USA's next opponent: "I don't know anything about Angola, but I know they're in trouble."

Fit with Wizards: Fernando would fit the Wizards in a variety of ways. Rim protection and rebounding are their biggest needs and he would help them to different degrees in both areas. With rebounding in particular, he could be a big plus.

But two questions about Fernando could give the Wizards pause. One is if they can justify taking him ninth when he may fall into the teens and second is what his ceiling will ultimately be. Does he have All-Star potential or will he top out as an Enes Kanter-type rebounding specialist?

Ideally, the Wizards would find someone with very high upside to give them hope for a true franchise building block moving forward. There may be better options than Fernando at No. 9, even if they play positions that are less of a need for the Wizards.

Best highlight video:

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: