Opening Statements: Wizards at Heat, Game 63
After a close victory against the lowly Milwaukee Bucks, the Washington Wizards are now on South Beach to take on the Miami Heat. The Wizards have gone 1-5 on the road against the Heat during the John Wall era, and that one victory came in April of 2012 when LeBron James and Chris Bosh did not play, and Dwyane Wade played fewer than three minutes. For the past three years, the months of March and April have represented two different schools of thought for these two teams. The Heat are coasting, intermittently resting key players and preparing for an extended mid-June playoff run. The Wizards are usually racking up moral victories, inflating their confidence against shorthanded or playoff-bound teams and imploring fans to re-up on season tickets by hyping up changes to come.
Tonight’s Wizards vs. Heat matchup will be played under much different circumstances. Since LeBron put a 61-spot on the Charlotte Bobcats last week, the Heat have lost three straight games to the Rockets, Spurs, and Bulls—perfectly understandable losses for any team except the defending champions. The Wizards are on target to be participants (not spectators) in the playoffs, and they are currently the fifth-best team in the Eastern Conference at 33-29, winners of eight out of the last nine games. The two teams are jockeying for playoff position, and if the stars align (likely to honor the Heat) this game could be a preview of a playoff series. Considering the last time these two teams met, the Wizards ran roughshod over the Heat for four quarters, tonight’s game figures to be memorable.
Here to discuss the Wizards, the Heat, and LeBron we have two special guests. Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN), who covers the NBA and the Miami Heat for ESPN.com and the Heat Index, and Michael Tillery (@michaeltillery), the creator of “The Starting Five,” a senior writer at The Shadow League, and the host of “The Starting Five Live,” which airs on RAPstation.com.
Teams: Wizards at Heat
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: American Airlines Arena, Miami, Florida
Radio: WFED-AM 1500
Spread: Heat fav’d by 8 points
Wizards tickets … anyone?
Click to get them served up for cheap via TiqIQ and TAI.
Q #1: Conventional wisdom says a team that is vying for a third straight NBA title and a place in history would not be looking to make any type of statement against a team like the Washington Wizards, who are happy just to be in the playoff hunt.
But given the way the Heat lost in D.C. in January, and the focus LeBron & Co. have been playing with since the All-Star Break, could the Heat be looking to put the Wizards in their place?
@WallaceNBA_ESPN: Considering the Heat will be coming off a tough road trip that already included losses in Houston and San Antonio before Sunday’s game in Chicago [Author’s note: They lost in Chicago too], the matchup with the Wizards on the second night of a back-to-back set looms as a major challenge. LeBron James and the Heat have played solid ball since the All-Star break, but they also know the Wizards have turned it up lately as well. The Wiz are also a team that has already beaten Miami and are building confidence, despite Nene’s injury, heading toward the playoffs. It’s a potentially dangerous game for the Heat on a number of levels.
Q #2: Last week you wrote about Dwyane Wade, 32, and his gracefully aging game. Based on those conversations with him, and what you’ve seen up close and personal, how much longer can he play? And can you picture him settling into the type of supportive role that Shane Battier and Ray Allen have in their mid-to-late 30s?
@WallaceNBA_ESPN: This might be the first full season that Wade has completely accepted that his high-flying ‘Flash’ days are behind him now. That doesn’t mean that he won’t have a few flashback moments of spectacular play above the rim. What he’s shown this season is great balance and confidence in his midrange jumper and the ability to beat defenders as much with his savvy as he does with sheer athleticism. In other words, as I wrote in the piece referenced above, Wade is effectively embracing an old-man game. How long he plays will depend largely on how well those troublesome knees hold up. But if he gets another two seasons at the level he’s at now, it’s an accomplishment.
Q #3: True or False (and Why): The Heat need home court advantage to win a seven-game series over the Indiana Pacers.
@WallaceNBA_ESPN: False. Miami has proved each of the past three years it’s reached the Finals that it’s a team fully capable of winning big playoff games on the road. That said, never had home court advantage meant as much as it did to the Heat last season when they won Game 7s at home in the conference finals and against the Spurs to secure their second straight title. Indiana has made it a mission from the outset of this season to secure the No.1 seed and force the Heat to play that game in hostile territory. But LeBron James and crew are hardly intimidated by that prospect.
Q #4: The MVP race has turned into a Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James discussion. Durant, people say, is chasing his peers but LeBron is chasing history. Why is that? And who is your MVP?
@michaeltillery: Kevin Durant is chasing—however unintentional—the current NBA. Until he wins that first NBA championship or even his first MVP award, he can only be spoken in a current context of how the league is discussed. LeBron, on the other hand, is chasing history because he’s gunning for his fifth NBA Finals and fifth MVP award. When those numbers are approached he has no current NBA peer, hence why he’s chasing history. Think of the names we’re beginning to talk about in comparison as his career moves into another stratosphere: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Magic and Larry, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. To put it into perspective, we are no longer talking about anything LeBron vs. Kobe Bryant—despite Bryant being an active NBA icon.
I understand fan desire for Kevin Durant to win this season’s MVP award because of his incredible season (with Russell Westbrook out), OKC Thunder’s success, and how he’s viewed as a good guy, but no other player deserves the award as long as LeBron James is still at the top of his game and the Miami Heat are winning. After his 61-point outburst vs. the Bobcats, it strengthened LeBron’s case despite him not being known as a scorer (and I wrote about it). He also has missed a probable Hall of Fame player in Dwyane Wade for stretches and the Heat have remained elite. When a player of his multi-faceted skill set is shooting at a 58 percent clip with the ball in his hands more than anyone else for a two-time defending champion, it’s difficult to even mention any other name in the sport as more valuable than LeBron.
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