How do you like that?
Wizards fans almost witnessed history on Friday night ... and not in a good way, as Washington almost gave up the second biggest comeback in NBA history in narrowly beating the Miami Heat 99-97 at the Verizon Center.
As if it weren't apparent already, Friday night's game against the Heat showed something is wrong with this Wizards team.
Having processed all and agreed with much of the intelligent analysis about the Wizards' recent struggles, it's easy enough to understand *some* of the Wizards fall from a 31-13 team in second place in the Eastern Conference to the 35-27 team barely holding onto fifth seed.
The offense is woefully deficient and outdated. The roster, built to fight last year's playoff opponents, now lacks the versatility to match the style the best in the East now play. Injuries have hampered what depth they have and some unsustainable early performances proved unsustainable (Wherefore art thou, December Rasual Butler?). None of that adequately explains what has happened with Washington, particularly in these last two games at the Verizon Center. Against the Pistons, they set a season high in scoring in the first half only to lose a 25-point lead before barely squeaking out a victory. On Friday night, they blew a 35-point advantage and barely survived against the Heat's B squad.
As Randy Wittman said after the Wizards survived a narrow victory over the Heat, he wasn't about to give this win back. That said, the team he leads sure seemed to do their best to do it on their own.
Facing a Heat squad in the fourth quarter missing Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh, John McRoberts, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade, the Wizards coughed up their lead to a group a lineup led by Henry Walker, Tyler Johnson and Michael Beasley - three players who weren't in the NBA a month ago. The Heat outscored the Wizards 24-11 in the fourth quarter and came just a shot away from walking out of the Verizon Center with a W.
There is no way to sugarcoat it: This second half collapse was more embarrassing than either losses to Minnesota or Philadelphia. (Those were on the road, missing Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce.) Last night was different.
Randy Wittman and the team blamed the usual demons of poor ball movement, complacency and defensive. "In the second half, we had no cutters," Wittman said after the game. "We stood there and we watched the guy with the ball, which allows the defense to shrink the floor which eliminates a lot of options for our postmen. We can't continually come out and do that after the game."
There's certainly truth to all that but it doesn't adequately explain just how badly the Wizards played over the final 19 minutes of the game. In that time, the Wizards were outscored 49-16, outrebounded 21-8 and committed 12 turnovers to the Heat's five. The Wizards managed just four field goals in that time period over which they had an offensive rating of 44.5 (!) compared to a defensive rating of 135.4. All of this came against a Heat team that is a below average defense in the best of circumstances and missing some of their best defensive players.
The Wizards will try to focus on what positive they can take away from this game. Regardless of the level of competition, the first 29 minutes of the game the team looked more like the early season team than the one of late, setting season highs in points in a quarter (40 in the first) and in a half (67 in the first). John Wall saw some good in the Wizards effort:
"You just take how you played in the first half. It's the only thing you want to take is the first half, the second half was not us. I mean, it's back to the team that was losing 12 of their last 15 so you try and take the first half. That was the team that went 30-15 in the first half of the season."
What actually brings back that team from the first half of the season remains unclear. Perhaps they were never as good as we hoped them to be, but they weren't quite this bad. Is more small ball, more threes or more effort the solution? I can't say I know the answer.
I am not sure anyone with the Wizards does either.