Failures against the Heat can mean triumph against Cleveland


By now you know of Washington’s valorous effort against the Miami Heat at home on Wednesday night. Though their leader, John Wall, was ejected early in the 2nd quarter, Jordan Crawford submitted 39 points, and fought along with his teammates – Othyus Jeffers, Andray Blatche, and Maurice Evans playing particularly well – to push the Heat well into the 4th quarter, before falling 123-107.

In the end, it could be said that talent prevailed, the Heat having three of the league’s top players, with LeBron James and Dwayne Wade likely being All-NBA performers. However, the trend that we touched on in Wednesday’s preview, continued, albeit indirectly; and was yet compounded by another team weakness on defense. While, unlike in recent games, the Wizards shot a comparable amount of three-point attempts (16 to MIA’s 19) and an outstanding percentage (56% to MIA’s 52%), there are a few notable items about their opponents performance behind the line, and their own that shed light on the difference in the game.

First, however, the Wizards once again deserve commendation for their security with the basketball. All season long they have been one of the league’s most turnover-prone offenses, yet for a fifth straight game, they kept their turnovers (14) below the league average, this time against one of the best defensive team’s in the league. Praise is also warranted for again tying their opponent in total rebounds while finishing with more offensive rebounds (WAS 38 total, 12 offensive; MIA 38 total, 8 offensive). But, now, back to the shooting.

Allowing Miami to take 19 3P attempts – most of them wide open – is one thing. One might reason that their strategy was to surrender 3s while guarding the paint against James’ and Wade’s forays to the hoop, as both are among the best finishers in the NBA, and are the primary reason Miami finishes so well at the rim as a team. Indulging the possibility for that strategy, 19 3P attempts is not too many to surrender if the plan was to concede them anyway.

Looking at the rest of the game, however, the real reason Miami took only 19 3s was because they were having a much better time getting all the way to the rim. Giving up shots at the basket has been a season-long weakness as well, where Washington allows opponents to shoot almost 70% at the rim, the second-worst rate in the league. According to the advanced box-score at Hoopdata from Wednesday’s game, which tracks shot locations, they allowed the Heat to convert 24 of their 27 shots taken at the rim. Compounding that success rate on such a high number of attempts at the basket was the fact that Washington also fouled Miami on many of those attempts, giving them a chance at an extra point when Miami also converted those shots. The Heat attempted 39 free-throws, all between their 3 stars Wade, James, and Chris Bosh (except for James Jones who took a technical free-throw). Many times these fouls were careless ones, or were due to poor positioning on the part of the Wizards’ defenders.

The combination of open looks behind the line, at the rim, and the fouls was simply too much to overcome against a superior opponent, despite the Wizards’ own valiant effort.

The Wizards’ own 9-16 effort from 3 for 56% was impressive, especially considering their recent struggles – a large part of that is owed to Crawford’s 5-8 mark. However I would argue that they should have taken more. The Wizards took 18 shots between the 16-23 feet range, and only made 3. This is the most disadvantageous shot in basketball, as shots from that range carry a low success rate without the reward of the extra point gained on successful 3P shots. In addition, players are unlikely to draw fouls on these shots, as defenses try to avoid fouling jump-shooters, and would prefer their opponents to launch from this distance anyway.

Miami is one of the best teams in the league, particularly in the areas mentioned above in which they excelled against the Wizards, and they have been getting to the line, creating and making open shots all year. Still Washington made it too easy for Miami to use those strengths.

Tonight they face the Cleveland Cavaliers – who themselves just beat Miami on Tuesday – and they will be looking for revenge from the trouncing the Wizards’ gave them in their own arena en route to this season’s first road win. Washington is still short-handed without Nick Young, Josh Howard, and Rashard Lewis; and John Wall is suspended for his role in the fracas that got him ejected Wednesday. Still talent will not be an excuse against these Cavs. Cleveland has struggled with injuries and on the court this year; they are also not a good team finishing around the rim, nor are they a proficient shooting the 3 as was Miami. Still, Washington must be more attentive on the defensive end of the floor to disallow easy baskets in the paint, and to better contest 3P shots.

On offense, they should not settle for long jumpers as they did against Miami, and they should take open shots from behind the 3-point arc when their ball-movement creates them. If they do these things in concert with the discipline they have shown of late taking care of the ball and in rebounding, they can compete through the 4th quarter for the win.