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Wizards-Heat a mismatch of epic proportions

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Wizards-Heat a mismatch of epic proportions

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.”

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Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

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Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

Dwight Howard may play in the Wizards' regular-season opener on Thursday night against the Miami Heat, but the team will not know until the day of the game and likely won't announce the decision either way until head coach Scott Brooks addresses the media about two hours before tipoff.

Howard only has three practices under his belt but has made significant progress throughout this week after missing all five of the team's preseason games due to a strain in his piriformis muscle.

Head coach Scott Brooks said Howard has looked good in those three practices but has a lot of missed time to make up for.

"I think he's definitely winded at times, but that's part of it," Brooks said.

Brooks added that Howard is not getting the same lift when jumping that he's used to. Howard, 32, is used to playing above the rim and his vertical leap is an important part of his game.

The Wizards play their first two games at home, the second on Saturday against the Raptors. They then embark on a Western Conference road trip beginning with the Blazers on Monday.

Brooks said Howard will "definitely" make that trip with the team, which gives a good indication of how close he is to returning to game action. When Howard is ready to play will be left up to the team's medical staff.

If Howard does miss time, the Wizards are expected to rely on his backup Ian Mahinmi as the starting center. Jason Smith would then become the No. 2 center on the depth chart, though they could use forwards like Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at the five-spot.

Howard signed a two-year free-agent deal worth $11 million to join the Wizards in July.

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John Wall and Bradley Beal will depend on each other more than ever in year 7

John Wall and Bradley Beal will depend on each other more than ever in year 7

The Wizards will only go as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal take them. There's just no other way around it.

The chemistry between Wall and Beal has been the dominant topic for years surrounding this team, and the magnifying glass will only be pushed closer this season, despite all of the other additions the Wizards made this offseason.

It's all about the backcourt. 

Luckily, both Wizards All-Stars understand and embrace the pressure. 

"We're opposites, but we're the same in a way," Beal told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. "He's more loud and outspoken, I'm more chill and relaxed, but you put us together, it's peanut butter and jelly."

Have you noticed that peanut butter and jelly always seems to be the go-to "good combination" for people? At least Beal didn't say something weird like tuna and bananas, although to each his own if that's what you like.

Anyway, more importantly, Wall understands this sandwich dynamic just as much as Beal does. Especially when the topic of a championship comes up. 

"I couldn't get it without him, and he couldn't do it without me," Wall said.  "I think that's the bond we have built, and it's gotten so much better each year."

One of the biggest reasons for divorce that we see in pro sports is ego. So many players don't understand what Wall alluded to. No matter how good you are, you can't do it alone. You need your wingman.

There were certainly rumblings or worries that Wall and Beal had their issues chemistry-wise earlier in their careers, but we're seeing two young stars grow as each season passes. 

That doesn't mean there still won't be times where they don't click. That's natural.

Keep in mind though, this is the seventh season the two will play together. The NBA is known to chew up and spit out young, inexperienced teams. The grind is part of the journey. Wall and Beal have had playoff success and failures, but they went through it together.

Now comes the time where those learning experiences become something they grow from, and use it to fuel a push to their ultimate goal – a championship.

And maybe a better peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

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