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Gameday: Wizards at Heat – Guard ya grill (and the paint)

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Wizards (33-29) at Heat (43-17)

March 10, 2014 at 7:00 PM
AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami< FL TV: CSN Washington Radio: 106.7FM The Fan

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Projected starting lineups:

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C- Marcin Gortat
PF- Trevor Booker
SF- Trevor Ariza
SG- Bradley Beal
PG- John Wall

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C- Chris Bosh
PF- Shane Battier
SF- LeBron James
SG- Dywane Wade
PG- Mario Chalmers

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After I posed my question about Trevor Booker’s defense against him back on Jan. 15, LeBron refused to admit that the Wizards or anything else besides his own shortcomings had hindered his team’s performance. Also, a myriad of #BronFace.
Photo via @_abdu11ah_ Instagram.

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The Miami Heat are slummin’ on a 3-game slide. The Wizards have won eight of their last nine games. The last time these two teams met just seven weeks ago, the Wizards decisively beat the Heat at the Verizon Center. But what context does this all provide for tonight’s match, if any at all?

For many a time, the Wizards have been utilized as the punching bag for opposing teams (good or bad) who need to relieve their frustration suffered from a bad stretch of basketball. Depleted rosters usually find their backups and no-namers relishing the spotlight. Teams struggling to remain consistent suddenly discover fluidity and ground. Even the league’s worst team took the liberty of teasing themselves – and the world – with a monstrous 28-point comeback attempt against the Wizards, nearly sending shock waves through the District for an epic #SoWizards meltdown.

But in a sort of distinctive way, the Heat seem to incite the Wizards. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s the 3-5 record against the Heat since getting swept in the season series 4-0 back in 2010-11. Maybe it’s the 17-point win two months ago in the game I like to label as #CoastGate. This, of course, when LeBron gave the Wizards a sideway threat in response to a reporter’s accusation that he and the Heat were ‘coasting’ through games. The Heat were set to face the Wizards the following day and LeBron vowed to prove his accusers wrong.

“We’ll see Wednesday how I’m coasting. You’ll see the numbers I’ll put up on Wednesday. Just watch.”

The quote bedeviled Wizards fans like the Black Smoke trickling into the soul of an Oceanic 815 survivor, but by the grace of Randy Wittman’s basketball gods it rendered minimal conformity on the floor. BronBron would finish with 25 points on 8-for-18 shooting, making just three of his 10 second half shots. The Wizards paraded out the gates to a 43 point downpour in the 1st quarter, would take a 21 point lead into the half, and eventually win the game by 17 led by seven Wizards players in double-figures.

LeBron James

Since his 61 point strike against the Bobcats, the MVP candidate and also self-appointed NBA royalty has gutterballed in his last three games:

  • LeBron has shot a combined 23-for-59 (38%) during this 3-game slide.
  • vs. Houston (22 points): 9-for-18 FG; shot 1-for-7 in the second half; 0-for-5 from 20+ feet.
  • vs. San Antonio (19 points): 6-for-18 FG; shot 1-for-8 from 15-19 feet; 0-for-3 from 20+ feet.
  • vs. Chicago (17 points): 8-for-23 FG; shot 1-8 from 20+ feet.
  • The unsurpassable truth of LeBron’s inability to sustain any sort of consistency shooting the ball from the perimeter has been admitted, yet seldom expressed. Perhaps it’s meaningless given the dominant nature of all elsewhere in BronBron’s game. Perhaps the rarity of a hot shooting night from areas outside of the 3-foot semicircle around the rim should just be accepted as an elusive perk but listen, I’m not here to pep talk ‘Heat’ fans.

    So really, what does this all mean for the Wizards tonight? Well, let’s start with this. We all adore the Popovich system, amirite? During his sideline interview with Craig Sager after the 3rd quarter of the Heat/Spurs game, Sager insinuated that LeBron’s struggles were due to the defense forcing him out of the paint and thusly forcing him to attempt shots from deeper range. When Sager asked Pop how the Spurs were able to accomplish that, he monotonously (and hilariously) responded, “I don’t know.” Somehow, that very much seems like a retort #WittmanFace would give. Idea: make the Wizards force LeBron out of the paint then ask Wittman how he did it.

    For most defenders, the accomplishment of guarding LeBron from the paint is typically a feat comparable to when Walter White killed Don Salamanca and Gustavo Fring in one sitting via wheelchair bomb, then calling their spouse and boasting, “I won.”

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    While much truth resides in LeBron’s recent struggles, unfortunately the same applies to his perseverance. As LeBron’s opposition, the mere objective is to harbor him from comfort zones, to abuse him, to instill angst and apprehension. Make him pout. Make him wince. Make a Delonte joke. This is a calling for Trevor Ariza’s on-ball defense; for Martell Webster’s help; for Marcin Gortat’s timely rotations; for Trevor Booker’s contention; shit, offer a few minutes to Chris Singleton and let him square up on a few plays, even if it only sends LeBron to the line. Make it happen.

    Let’s face it. The way the Heat have struggled this past week has all the makings for a rehabilitating performance and terrifying domination of the Wizards tonight. There’s no real science behind that belief, only #SoWizards. But equally, this could be terrible timing for the Heat as well. They lost a close one in Houston, got destroyed late in San Antonio, and then succumbed to the Bulls in a classic blow-for-blow battle that ended in overtime.

    The Wizards of today have become a young squad comforted by proven veterans. The “AARP” squad of Al Harrington, Drew Gooden and Andre Miller has provided an upsurge to the second unit, creating a balance that hadn’t been noticed for much of the season before their arrival. The unprecedented production of those guys combined with Trevor Ariza’s career season, Marcin Gortat’s consistency, and of course, the House of Guards has the Wizards four games over .500 and in concrete position to pursue the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

    The Miami Heat are just one of the few elevated hurdles left in an otherwise manageable remaining schedule for the Wizards. A hurdle that is still wobbling from the last three teams that faced them, granting the Wizards an opportunity to leap over quickly and get the hell out of Dodge, evading a tumultuous setback to an elite team. Who knows? No one yet, but we shall around 9:30 tonight. Go Wizards.

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