Heat vs. Wizards: Washington's new emphasis on pushing the ball

USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards made it a point to practice a new strategy for pushing the ball up the floor after Friday's blowout loss to the Knicks. That manifested itself in a shocking win over Miami.

WASHINGTON -- There were so many things that bugged Randy Wittman after the Washington Wizards' blowout loss to the New York Knicks last Friday night, but even with a few days in between games to practice, he couldn't fix them all. Bad half-court offense. Bad concentration on defense. Poor finishing by big men and guards alike. All these major problems explain why the Wizards entered Tuesday's game against the Miami Heat with a 1-13 record.

But there was one problem he noticed that he made his mission to correct. Given the Wizards' half-court offensive execution issues, it was especially problematic that they couldn't ever create anything easy in transition. The Wizards were doing a decent job of getting stops, but were still content to give the ball to one of their backup point guards so they could slowly matriculate the ball up the court.

Wittman knew that had to change. So, he asked his team to focus on one thing: getting the ball up the court by having the point guard pitch it ahead up the wing with passes rather than dribbling in the middle of the floor.

"Throughout this whole week in practice, that's literally all we've been doing," Bradley Beal said.

Executing the plan requires a lot of trust. The point guards have to know that the wings are running their lanes instead of trying to come back to dribble the ball up themselves. The wings have to trust that the point guards will actually throw it ahead when they're open. The big men have to do their part and get moving after they grab rebounds so they can get layups and offensive rebounds as trailers. Finally, the coach has to trust that everyone is doing their part even when they aren't getting the ball. The whole thing breaks down when one person decides not to run.

But for one game, the Wizards had that trust. Washington took advantage of the Heat's leaky transition defense to get several transition layups and three-pointers, especially in the first three quarters.

"Coach was like, 'We had four layups by accident,' just by passing the ball up the floor," Beal said. "That's what happens when you do that. Our wings get out and going, and our bigs are running the floor as well."

For one night, A.J. Price and Shaun Livingston made it a point to throw the ball ahead to Beal, Martell Webster, Jordan Crawford and Trevor Ariza, when he was playing. With more latitude to press the issue, those four created easier shot opportunities than the Wizards ever would have created in their half-court offense.

"By moving the ball up, the defense has to run to the baseline," Wittman said. "When you dribble it up, the defense is much better pressed forward. There's no driving. That was kind of the emphasis of everything [this week]. Get the ball pushed up to the baseline, get the defense down to the basket. Now, when the ball is out, you have driving lanes."

Livingston, Beal and Webster all confirmed to Bullets Forever that pitching the ball ahead to the wings in transition was a new focus for the team. It's not so much a strategy as it is a key that needs to be emphasized, but it still hadn't be stressed much prior to these past couple days.

To be fair, some of the new focus can be explained by the opponent. Wittman said the Wizards wanted to push because they knew the Heat would aggressively run them off the three-point line, which opened up drives to the basket against a team without shot-blockers. Nevertheless, this emphasis really should be here to stay. Even if the Wizards don't get layups and open threes, they will have a much easier time getting into their half-court sets.

"It gets guys moving. It gets bodies moving," Livingston said. "That's what it takes. It's better that then having guys standing and watching, where it's easier for teams to defend."

Now, it's just a matter of everyone continuing to do their part, especially when John Wall comes back.

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