Miami saw a six-game winning streak ended by the bottom dwelling Washington Wizards on Tuesday night in a game that further showcased just how vulnerable the defending champs are at times.
More than 17,000 basketball fans packed the Verizon Center, undoubtedly looking to see what a professional basketball team actually looks like, but they were surprised when the better team on the day wore the home colors. The victory is the Wizards third consecutive win over the Heat, who struggled to match the front presence of Washington’s power forwards.
In each of the Heat’s four losses this season, it’s been their decision to not invest in a big man who can provide rebounds and a defensive presence in front of the rim that has cost them. This game was further evidence of just how tough it can be with just LeBron James and Chris Bosh doing all of the dirty work around the rim.
The Wizards experimented with a new lineup once again, with Chris Singleton taking over for Kevin Seraphin to start at power forward. The move would pay off as Seraphin gave them a big presence off the bench with 16 points and 10 rebounds while Singleton gave them valuable minutes and a 9 point, 9 rebound performance.
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In a game like this, where second chance points can make the difference between a loss and a win, Miami’s status as the second worst rebounding team in the league comes back to haunt them. They were out rebounded by Washington 44-43 and were unable to get out on the break as the Wizards out scored them 16-6 in fast break points.
Miami’s rebounding effects how lethal they are down the stretch also. Granted, they have two of the best players in basketball who can score over 30 points with ease, but if you look at the final few plays in this game, they can’t rebound without James near the basket.
On the night, James finished with 13 rebounds to go with his 26 points and 11 assists, but aside from Chris Bosh’s 12 rebounds, no Heat player had more than Mike Miller’s four boards. In the final moments, James took a three that would have given the Heat a 102-101 lead, but when he missed, there were no Heat shirts anywhere near the basket to provide them with a second chance at a basket.
The instance would repeat itself seconds later when James attempted to tie the game at 104 from the corner, but the only Heat player anywhere near the hoop was Ray Allen who couldn’t reel in the rebound. Miami’s inability to clean up their missed shots is a major problem in games like this and will lead to more than one shocking loss if they can’t address it.
The Heat don’t have a lot of quality in their depth and it showed in this one as their bench was outscored 64-31 by the Wizards backups. Besides the startling contrast in bench play, Miami allowed Washington to shoot 48% from the field, 8 percent better than their league worst 40% average.
Miami scores plenty of points in the paint, but it’s their ability to guard it that continues to affect them as they lack a true power forward at any given time with James and Bosh filling that and the center role respectively. Defensively, the Heat are supposed to be one of the best teams in the league, but they barely sneak into the top 15 in opponent points in the paint per game.
James is an amazing player, but is it fair to expect him to do everything? He led the Heat in every statistical category on Tuesday (Wade finished with 24 points) and they still lost, a story that sounds all too familiar to fans in Cleveland.
Some credit has to be given to the Wizards who had a season high 31 assists in this game and were bolstered by a solid performance from Jordan Crawford who hit several big shots down the stretch on his way to scoring 22 and providing five assists. But the bigger issue and story of the day is the defending champions losing to a team that could lose on any given day to its neighboring colleges.
As a team, the Heat are allowing 100 points per game, a stat that will haunt them come playoff time if they can’t address it. Will the Heat regret not signing a big body in the interest of keeping the lane clear for James and Wade? Maybe, but maybe not. They’re still better than most teams in this league simply because of talent level, but if they keep on like this, teams with capable rebounders who can defend the paint and move the ball around won’t be scared of them.