John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
The Washington Wizards flashed a crucial component of identity in their preseason win against the Heat, coming from behind without their two best while showing the hustle and grit that defined the team's winning streak to close out the 2011-12 season.
And here I thought meaningful halftime adjustments were the province of football. The Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were having their way with the Wizards defense Wednesday night in Kansas City. After two quarters of play, the Miami starting lineup was +18 and Wade owned a +20 mark. The Wizards had refused to go away, closing within two points before a LeBron-led 21-9 capped the second frame. Miami seemed to be able to pull away at will.
At this point, familiar thoughts started popping up in my head:
- John Wall is injured.
- Nene is injured.
- There's no set rotation and players are still learning how to play in different lineups.
- The above also makes it seem like some players have regressed when they haven't.
- Somebody is going to absolutely crucify me if these turn out to be the same old Wizards.
Then, of course, the second half happened. The Wiz had never quite let the Heat out of their sights and the Big 3 weren't quite as "unstoppable" against the "lowly Wizards"; those happy +/-s dropped to +14 for Chris Bosh while James and Wade's dwindled to +9s as D.C. pushed in the second half. And those glorious stat lines James and Wade put in? You probably don't want to overlook their nine-turnover to eight-assist ratio. Oh, and Wade nearly fouled out in 33 minutes of play.
The Wizards outrebounded the Heat on both ends of the floor and kept making the hustle plays that kept possessions alive, the backdoor cuts that took the starch out of Miami's defense and the defensive rotations (while sliding their feet better) that made Miami work to get in close. The Wiz did all the little things and those little things added up. The Heat didn't give up on this game, either. That was Ray Allen and Wade trying to lead the charge in the fourth quarter.
Jan Vesely was scrapping (11 rebounds, 5 fouls, 23 minutes), Chris Singleton and Martell Webster outscored James and Wade, Randy Wittman left the hot hands in the game and Washington won that game the way we saw them winning at the end of last season. Sure, there were more Brian Cook jumpers than Kevin Seraphin baby hooks, but it looked like the identity this team was embracing when things seemed to turn around. The one thing this franchise needs more than anything else.
In a way, I'm very grateful the Big 3 torched the defense in the first half of that contest. It was the perfect reminder of the adversity the Wizards will face in the regular season when they let their discipline on D.C.'s brand of kinetic defense slip. It's also the perfect reminder of what they can achieve when that team-wide engine is firing on all cylinders at both ends. Identity is nothing if you don't believe in it. If the team can embrace that regardless of who's injured, it will be exactly what I hoped for.
There's a tough test on Friday night as the Wizards venture to San Antonio to take on the Spurs, humming like a well-oiled machine once more. The final score won't be particularly significant to me, as long as the Wizards play like the Wizards. That finally means something and should that carry over into the regular season, the league won't be able to ignore the Washington Wizards any more.