Opening Statements 12: Wizards vs. Heat | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements 12: Wizards vs. Heat

Updated: November 19, 2016


For one night, a “little Polish Wizards fan” was able to bask in the euphoria that is sports fanaticism, even though I’m sure that there is a much higher percentage of him remembering the tangible experience that he went through the previous night in Philadelphia when he cried his eyes out in disappointment over his Wizards. And while Marcin Gortat was so kind to go out of his way and apologize to the little guy, he may have gotten a very early lesson one of the main character-building principles of sports: how to handle defeat. In sports, just as in life, we will all be handed many Ls but how you respond to those obstacles is the true litmus test.

The Wizards showed a glimpse of the mental toughness of any NBA team worth its salt when they defeated the Knicks the very next night after one of the most disappointing Wizards losses in recent memory. If there were a such thing as a “must-win” game in November, Thursday against the Knicks was it, strictly because of the negative attention that was drawn to this franchise after falling to the lowly Sixers. Bradley Beal played versus New York for the first time in three games, John Wall was let loose after being on restriction of 24 minutes in Philadelphia, and Otto Porter continued his emergence as one of the surprise players of the NBA. The Wizards were able to pull themselves up to a 3-8 record and are in the midst of a four-game home stretch with the next contest being tonight’s matchup with the Miami Heat.

Miami just broke out of a losing slump by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks, 96-73, which snapped a six game losing streak. The Heat may well be without two of their rotation players in D.C. tonight, as Wayne Ellington has already been ruled out and Justise Winslow is questionable to play with a wrist injury.

Miami will certainly not receive any sympathy for being down a player or two, but their players on the court Saturday night will have to be reckoned with. Center, Hassan Whiteside is in the midst of a true breakout season as he has taken over as face of the franchise since Dywane Wade left South Beach for greener (and colder) pastures in Chicago. Whiteside is producing a staggering stat line of 17.6 points per game, 16 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. He has given Marcin Gortat problems in the past, posting 25 points and 23 rebounds in 29 minutes on the Wizards last February. For Washington to win, they will need a big performance from the Polish Machine.

Washington will also face Heat starters Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters in the backcourt. Dragic has been his usual consistent self this season, while Waiters has struggled to fill the void left behind by Wade at the shooting guard position. Waiters shoots just 36 percent from the field and only 30 percent from behind the arc. If Bradley Beal wanted to pick a perfect time to make a statement game for the 2016-17 season, this would be an opportunity. It was just two seasons ago that Waiters went out of his way to make comments in the media suggesting that he and Kyrie were a better backcourt tandem than Wall and Beal. Beal better damn sure have that slight in the back of his mind when he takes the court tonight.

More likely than not, this game will be decided by which team can receive the most contribution from their second units. Because both teams have experienced a lot of losing so far, both coaches have done a lot of tinkering with their early season rotations. One of the players who has emerged for the Heat over the last few games is James Johnson. Johnson is in his first season in Miami after spending two seasons on the Toronto Raptors. The thing that makes Johnson valuable is the energy he brings on the defensive end. In Miami’s win over the Bucks, Johnson sparked the bench with a 9 point and 10 rebound effort. The Wizards will have to try to limit his opportunities on the glass, and the best possible matchup would be for Kelly Oubre to fight to keep a spot in the rotation.

Scott Brooks has made a lot of adjustments, and he may have found a nice seven-man rotation that includes the starters plus Oubre and Satoransky. Those two players provide the best position flexibility and are two of the better defenders on this team. Both have their issues on offense, but Satoransky can create (31 assists, 13 turnovers on the season) and Oubre can hit the 3 (7-17, 41% from deep)—a nice pairing.

One of these teams will leave the Verizon Center victorious with a 4-8 record and a sense of cautious optimism. The other team will be left with a ton of questions that leave a coaching staff up at night as they try to salvage a season that could get out of hand. On paper, the Wizards should have the talent and mental advantage. But games aren’t decided on paper.

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.