Expect A Scene Like None Before At The Verizon Center Tonight
[UPDATE: Or not … seems like the President won’t be in attendance now, and Arenas has likely been traded to Orlando for Rashad Lewis. “Great.”]
The Miami Heat make their way down to D.C. from New York to play the Wizards tonight. I imagine the atmosphere will be slightly different from Madison Square Garden, in terms of expressed fan affection for the home team. Surely many will be showing up more so to boo LeBron James, the energy from which, however, could certainly lead to more cheers for the Wizards. Then again, I will be curious to see how many adoring screams there are for LeBron and Dwyane Wade reigning down from the rafters. Seems like there will be plenty in this city of transient sports fans.
Actually, I imagine the scene at the Phone Booth will be crazier than MSG. Ted Leonsis has already warned that “lots of dignitaries and VIPS” will be in the building, and that means President Obama, as evidently the Secret Service has been making security preparations at the Verizon Center this morning. Oh, and with all the trade rumors swirling, it could be Gilbert Arenas’ last game in a Wizards uniform. Right now, according to the Washington Post’s Michael Lee, he’s still expected to suit up for Washington this evening.
To describe the buzz of emotion that will be going on in the Verizon Center as a circus doesn’t really do it justice — it certainly takes all the attention away from Josh Howard’s potential season debut, in the least. But to get a bearing on the incoming team that will actually be playing basketball against the Wizards, I turned to ESPN TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz, who has been embedded covering Miami for ESPN.com’s Heat Index. And away we go…
Kyle Weidie: The Heat are on quite a streak and we all hear enough about so-and-so, but what about the other guys? Who’s filling in best when the team is working?
Kevin Arnovitz: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will have a favorable advantage over their defensive counterpart almost every night. But what happens when defenses load up and bring an extra guy into the paint to deter penetration and make it harder for these guys to make plays? That was the question facing the Heat going into the season. The resounding answer has been positive. The Heat have been able to generate clean looks by swinging the ball to Carlos Arroyo on the weak side. HIs true shooting percentage sits at 58.5, almost all of those shots coming from the perimeter. James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have imported their pick-and-pop game to Miami and have taken full advantage of all that space defenses are affording the Heat at 19 feet. And James Jones hits two 3-pointers per night, usually the recipient of kick-outs from James and Wade.
KW: To me, Erik Spolestra couldn’t have handled the coaching controversy at its height earlier this season any better. He stood firm, but didn’t make it a larger issue. What’s the general perception about the job he’s doing now, and what’s your perception?
KA: The Monday morning prior to the last Wizards-Heat game in Miami, the tension in the media room at shootaround coming off the Dallas loss and Bumpgate was like a low-pressure system bearing down on south Florida. Spoelstra took the podium and was entirely unflappable. He wasn’t defensive or defiant. Instead, he just projected the confidence of someone with an uncommon focus and an inability to be distracted by peripherals. We can never truly get inside a guy’s head, but Spoelstra gave every indication of a guy who was far more preoccupied with figuring out how setting Shawn Marion in motion in the half court could destabilize the Heat’s entire defense and what, if anything, could be done about the epidemic on the opponents’ offensive glass than he was about his job security.
Nearly three weeks later, he has the Heat playing the best brand of defense in the league. They’re giving up virtually nothing at the basket with a front line platoon of Bosh, Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony and Erick Dampier. The team is picking up easy buckets in transition, while maintaining a very measured pace (24th in the league) that still allows them to grind teams down in half-court situations on both ends of the floor. Wade and James have started to move off the ball, and he’s using Bosh beautifully as a chess piece to challenge opponent’s packed-in defensive schemes.
KW: Again, 11 wins in a row, quite good … but is the Achilles heel of the Heat still facing a quick point guard in a good PG-heavy league?
KA: There’s a reason that if you ask any fan in the league, they’ll tell you their team’s primary defensive weakness is stopping speedy point guards. It’s because it can’t be done without a hand check. That’s life in the modern NBA. Here’s what we know: Opposing point guards are putting up a Player Efficiency Rating of 12.3 and only one-fifth of their total field goal attempts are coming inside. During the current winning streak, Chris Paul posted his worst game of the season against the Heat, Brandon Jennings his second-worst and Deron Williams was decidedly average. Arroyo won’t shut down opposing point guards — nor will Chalmers for that matter — but the Heat’s pick-and-roll coverage is tight, smart and conservative. Penetration is funneled to help. If guards are able to probe, James sinks to the level of the ball while Wade and Arroyo/Chalmers rotate.
Many thanks to Kevin for his time. Stay tuned tonight, it’s going to be an interesting one … even if the Wizards get blown out.