The Wizards finally got a win last Wednesday in a two point win over the Portland Trail Blazers. For the casual observer (just looking at the win lost record), would you describe the Wizards as historically bad?
Offensively, yes. Without Nene for most of the year, the Wizards haven't had anyone who can really create shots for themselves or others in the halfcourt. With Wall out, they don't have the speed to generate easy points in transition, either. Defensively though, they've at least been average, and that's what has allowed them to keep games competitive despite a lack of talent. While they've been pretty bad so far, I don't think they'll be in the same discussion with last year's Bobcats when all is said and done.
Rashard Lewis seems to be rebounding nicely in Miami after his time in Washington. What do you think of his performance so far?
Lewis is playing 10 minutes less per game than he did for the Wizards last season. While his per-game production has fallen off, his per-minute production is steady, and maybe a little better. His PER stat has picked up and he is currently matching his 2009-10 output. Add to this that his role with the Heat is bench depth. He's currently more than doubling last season's three-point shooting percentage (55% to 24%). As a small forward splitting time with Shane Battier, he's provided more than we could have asked for, and frankly more than this blogger was expecting.
John Wall is out indefinitely with a strained left knee. What kind of game plan would you make up to limit the exposure of the Wizards offensive shortcomings?
Right now, it all comes down to getting the ball to Nene as much as possible when he's on the court. His lingering plantar fasciitis, is limiting his minutes, but he's makes the team much more competitive when he's on the court. If he's on the bench, then you have just to put the ball in Jordan Crawford or Kevin Seraphin's hands and let them go to work. Crawford doesn't always take the best shots, but he creates offense far better than anyone else right now, and Seraphin doesn't do a great job of getting to the line, but when he's got his jump hook going, it's something that defenses have to respect.
Offensively, Miami is terrifying. LeBron can still score at will, Wade and Bosh are still excellent and they're currently on pace to set an NBA record for the best team three-point percentage in NBA history. How on earth can this team be stopped?
I answered this question for the San Antonio Spurs blog, Pounding the Rock a few days ago, so with the authors permission, I'll reprint it here.
The Heat is tricky, and their best defense has proved to be a good offense. As to what is the hardest for them to defend, we need to look into the three losses Miami has suffered thus far this season.
In the second game of the season, the New York Knicks (short Amare Stoudamire) defeated the Heat by 20. They did this by coming out strong and outscoring the Heat by 16 in the first quarter, then playing .500 ball the rest of the game. The Knicks managed to stay hot from outside (hitting 19-of-36 from deep), while limiting the Heat to a seven-of-20 performance.
After reeling off a four game winning streak, Miami visited the Grizzlies in FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN. Unlike Miami's first loss, they stayed on pace with the Grizz in the first quarter. Memphis outscored the Heat, 34-20 in the second quarter, then stayed ahead for the rest of the game. Like the first loss, Miami's vaunted long game was stagnant (four-of-15), while Memphis had their best game of the season (14-for-24).
Three days later, against the Clippers in Los Angeles, Miami played pretty evenly. Each team made 35 field goals (Miami on 77 shots, LA on 72), while the Heat was 8-for-21 from distance and LA was 9-of-21. Most other metrics, advanced and simple, were relatively even. In the end, the real difference in this matchup was the simple things. Free throws, usually a strength for Miami, was the only significant difference between the teams. The Heat was 21-for-29, the Clippers went 27-of-32.
What can we take from this? Two of the three Miami losses came at the hands of hot outside shooting, which the Heat is sometimes loathe to defend. As I said in one of my questions - the Heat lead the NBA with 43.0% of their three point attempts paying off. The Achilles heel comes when they face an opponent who can also ball from deep.
Next question: Miami's scoring machine doesn't seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. Is recently returned Nene Hilario going to be able to shut down some of the "lane-driving" that the Heat is famous for?
Honestly, he probably isn't going to make a big difference defensively, at least while he's still recovering from injury. He still has enough athleticism right now to avoid being a liability on the defensive end, but he doesn't make me any more confident about the Wizards' chances of slowing the Heat down defensively than I would feel if he wasn't playing.
The Heat's defensive rating has gone from being top-10 the past two seasons to bottom-10 this season. Are the Heat just toying around right now so they can save their energy for the playoffs or is there something bigger going on here?
If you think the Heat are missing a little something on the defensive end, then your insight is spot on. There's a lot of things that new additions Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis do, but they lack a little in defense. Dwyane Wade hasn't been his usual all-world self thus far this season, and backup point guard Norris Cole is sporting a 6.0 PER so far this year. So yeah, defensively, the Heat isn't quite the juggernaut that the casual observer might think they are.
Miami has a tendency to play to the level of their competition, and all three of their losses have come on the road. That being said, the Wizards have a real chance at slaying the giant on Tuesday. If it comes down to the final shot, who do you want holding the rock?
If it came down to it, I'd probably try to run a play similar to what the Wizards used last year to beat the Heat in Miami late in the season. Of course, I wouldn't be able to use John Wall, so I'd probably have Jordan Crawford run a screen and roll with Nene. Ideally, you get Nene coming down the lane with a head of steam for the score. If not, Jordan Crawford is at his best as a shooter along the baseline, so hopefully he could get off a decent shot.
But seriously, how long is Miami going to toy with Washington until they just put this game out of reach?
Miami has a tendency to play to their level of competition. Just Thursday, the San Antonio Spurs (minus their top six rotation players) took the Heat to the last minute before Miami finally took the lead for good, winning by five. Is Miami better than the Wizards? Definitely. Can the Wiz steal one at home? If they keep it close and shut down Miami's long game, then yes. Miami will almost surely be favored (and win), but I'd take Washington against the spread.
Let's say you were handed the reins in Washington with the sole purpose of designing a roster to take on the Heat. Given an unlimited budget, who would you want in your starting five?
Well, it all starts with cutting off penetration, so I would take Dwight Howard at center, assuming he's fully healthy, because no one protects the paint better than Howard. I'll put Kevin Love at power forward, again, assuming he's healthy, because he helps the team's spacing with his outside shooting, and tandemed with Howard it will ensure there are no easy, loose rebounds for the Heat to grab. At small forward, I'll take Carmelo Anthony. I think Anthony's versatility would be very helpful against the Heat. At shooting guard I'll take Kevin Durant, because he'd exhaust Wade defensively and he can switch with Anthony on defensive assignments fairly easily.. Finally, at point guard I'll take Chris Paul, because he's the best point guard in the league.
HYPOTHETICAL: Let's say LeBron James had been traded to Washington at the start of the season for Trevor Ariza. What would each team's record be right now?
You're really going to make me sing for my supper here, aren't you? OK, LBJ can (and sometimes does) strap a team to his back and carry them to a victory. In Miami's case, the supporting cast is also pretty good. The addition of Trevor Ariza (while in no way LeBron's equal in any basketball sense) gives the Heat another three point shooter. I'd say that plugging Ariza into LBJ's slot would leave the Heat at 9-6 right now.
We've already seen what LeBron can do for a terrible team (witness his first few years in Cleveland). Washington's had a few close calls, and as long as we're building our sand castles in the air here, let's go ahead and call those games Wizard victories. How many offensive/defensive points is LeBron worth per game over Ariza? Very hard to say, but I'll venture out onto a limb and call Washington a 7-7 team with the King playing 40 minutes per night.