[Juwan Howard gets roasted by several Andray Blatche head shakes.]
Monday night’s matchup between the Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards could have easily been dubbed the “something-has-to-give” game. The Heat front-court (Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Illgauskas, the now-injured Udonis Haslem, the recently-added Erick Dampier, and to a much less extent, Juwan Howard) have developed a reputation of being soft, and with good reason.
Emeka Okafor went for 26 points and 13 rebounds; Amir Johnson, who has been a major disappointment this year despite the 5-year, $34 million contract, went for 14 points; Zach Randolph had 21 points and 13 rebounds; Tyson Chandler had 14 points and 17 rebounds; and first prize in the “I-torched-the-Heat” contest went to Paul Millsap, who had 46 points and 19 rebounds in an overtime loss. The point here is that dealing with semi-skilled to skilled big men is clearly not the strength of Miami.
On the flip side, the Washington Wizards are not exactly known for the play of their big men. Andray Blatche is the only big averaging in double figures (16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game), although JaVale McGee is close (9.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game). Sixty-percent of the Wizards’ scoring comes from John Wall (18 points per game), Gilbert Arenas (18 points per game), the red-hot Nick Young (12 points per game), and Kirk Hinrich (10.9 per game). When you throw in the fact that McGee came into the first match-up against Miami with a bad back, which meant more time for Hilton Armstrong (two points and three rebounds per game) and Kevin Seraphin (averaging two points and two rebounds in the five games he’s appeared in), it figured to be challenging game.
In the first quarter, Blatche played as if he was hell-bent on taking advantage of the scouting report. Fifteen seconds into the game, he hit a short jumper over Illgauskas, and even though he missed his next couple of shots, he did not stop attacking. All of the patented moves that Blatche attempts with varying degrees of success (the behind-the-back move, the up and under, the hard drives off the dribble) were on display, and they seemed to be working. Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony and Juwan Howard all tried to contain Blatche, but to no avail. He had 10 points and two rebounds after one quarter of play.
Hilton Armstrong took one shot in the 6:54 he played in the first, and McGee did nothing but pick up a foul in the other 5:56. The score at the end of the quarter was 24-21 in Miami’s favor.
The first half of the second quarter proved to be a struggle, not only for the Wizards’ front-court, but for the team as a whole, as they went the first four minutes without scoring. McGee was replaced by Armstrong after he picked up his second foul less than a minute into the quarter. Armstrong rebounded and defended, but at this point it was clear he didn’t have the offensive tools to exploit the Heat big men. Rookie Trevor Booker hustled during the first three minutes of the second, but unfortunately all he had to show for it was three fouls. He was then replaced by Blatche.
The best plays of the second quarter came in the last six minutes or so when Blatche and McGee were on the floor together. Their athleticism and length clearly bothered Howard, Dampier and Bosh. Blatche scored on inside and outside moves and drew fouls on Dampier, while McGee scored six points and grabbed six rebounds (three offensive). Still, the Wizards were down 52-44 at halftime.
Unlike the previous big men who have exploited the Heat (Randolph, Millsap and Okafor in particular), Blatche and McGee don’t exactly possess “traditional” post moves — although Blatche’s moves are vastly more polished than McGee’s. So, despite Blatche’s 15 points and McGee’s solid play in the second quarter, it never felt like the Wizards’ big men were influencing the momentum of the game. That, combined with the fact that Arenas, Hinrich and Young were not shooting well, led to the 52-44 halftime deficit.
At the start of the third quarter, it seemed like Saunders told Blatche to revert to his first quarter aggressiveness. He scored the first five points of the quarter, including a three-point play right over and through Howard, which cut Miami’s lead to six points. But that was the closest the Wizards would get.
Blatche’s play faltered after that, as he seemed a bit winded. And even though McGee continued to hustle and score baskets here and there, the fouls he was picking up on the other end seemed to frustrate him. Armstrong continued to be a non-factor, as was Seraphin during his four minutes of play. Through three quarters, Blatche had 20 points (but no rebounds in the third quarter), and McGee had 10 points (just one rebound in the third quarter).
After the third periods, my attempts to monitor and track the offensive performance of the Wizards’ front-line pretty much ended. After Armstrong’s flagrant foul on Joel Anthony and subsequent shove of Armstrong by Juwan Howard with around 30 seconds left in the third (which got both players thrown out), all the fight in the Wizards (particularly the big men) disappeared.
Blatche scored six points in the fourth, but by then Miami’s lead was hovering around 20. McGee continued to be frustrated on the defensive end and fouled out after going scoreless in the quarter. Trevor Booker did score six points in the final period, and he showed off impressive athleticism with some amazing dunk, but they did come during garbage time.
The final numbers for the Wizards two most productive big men look relatively decent. Blatche finished with 26 points and nine rebounds, and McGee finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Unfortunately, very few of those points and rebounds had an actual impact on the game, and they had little help from the rest of the front line. In John Wall’s absence, Young, Arenas and Hinrich combined to shoot 15-for-43 (34%). That fact did not help either.
These two teams will meet again on December 18th, this time in Washington, at which point we will again examine the offensive performance of the Wizards front-line. Hopefully, the presence of Wall, Al Thornton, and Yi Jianlian will alter the variables a bit.