During Wizards vs. Heat pregame coverage on the 106.7 FM radio broadcast, Flip Saunders said the Wizards needed to compete. Following the All-Star break, Washington had lost its first two games by an average of twenty points, and the games hadn't been close at all in the second half.
That was far from the case in a 121-113 loss against Miami, that felt for three quarters like the best game the Wizards had played in recent memory. Dwyane Wade -- who went for 20 points in the second quarter -- carried Miami in the fourth quarter as the Heat separated themselves from the Wizards down the stretch. Wade finished with 41 points.
This was a big game for the Wizards' young core. Nick Young torched Miami for 38 points, hitting six threes and all eight of his free throw attempts. The only thing that slowed him all night was an awkward landing that sent him to the locker room to get his foot taped.
John Wall had a double-double -- his 21st of the season -- with 24 points and 12 assists. Wall continues to attack the basket (12 free throw attempts). Meanwhile, JaVale McGee held down the interior with 18 points, 17 rebounds.
The one young piece that was missing was forward Andray Blatche, who sat out with lingering effects of a right hip injury suffered against Philadelphia on Thursday. And while t's tempting to say that it's more than coincidence that the Wizards seemed to move the ball crisply around the perimeter in his absence, it's probably prudent to reserve judgment at this point based on one game.
As for the new guys, there is little to report. Maurice Evans led the trio with seven points in 14+ minutes. Mike Bibby didn't provide much in limited minutes and Jordan Crawford only saw seven minutes of action.
There are two halves in a basketball game. The Wizards know this better than a lot of teams. But so far so good for the Washington vs. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. The Wizards trail by a score of 63-61 at the half in Miami.
Wade has gone off on the Wizards, leading all scorers with 23 points on 10-15 shooting. He lit up the Wizards for 20 points in the second quarter, when he shot 9 of 10 from the field. But Nick Young has been perhaps even better -- netting 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting to keep the Wizards within a single basket against one of the top teams in the NBA. Young has hit 3 of 4 attempts from three, and made all five of his free throw attempts.
The Wizards started a little smaller than usual, with Rashard Lewis sliding over to power forward due to the absence of Andray Blatche. JaVale McGee has picked up the slack on the boards, grabbing 12 rebounds in the first half to go with eight points. John Wall has 11 points and has handed out six assists.
Chris Bosh continues to struggle for the Heat. The third member of Miami's big three has followed up Thursday night's 1-for-18 shooting performance with 1-for-5 night so far. That is never good, but especially against a Wizards front line that is small and has surrendered big nights to many front court players this season. The Wizards have also been able to somewhat limit LeBron James, who has 13 points at half -- although he has taken only six shots as Wade as handled the scoring burden for Miami.
Newcomers Mike Bibby and Maurice Evans each saw time off the bench. Evans shot 2 for 3 and scored five points. Jordan Crawford -- considered the most important player in the deal -- has not come off the bench
In all, it was a strong first half from the Wizards, who have been run off the court by opponents in recent games against Indiana on Tuesday and against Orlando and San Antonio before the All-Star break. But as we saw last night in Philadelphia, a close game at halftime can get out of control quickly. It'll be interesting to see if the Wizards can continue to play with focus and confidence in the second half.
Life after All-Star weekend has been tough for Washington, which has lost by an average of 20 points in its first two games since the break. It doesn't get any easier on Friday night in Miami against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat, who will surely be motivated after losing to the Bulls on Thursday.
Per Blatche, some people might not be so upset that he is missing in action:
Blatche has had quite a day on Twitter, which you can read more about here. I have yet to see any evidence that his absence is related to that incident, but it is interesting. For what it's worth, Lee said the organization is taking Blatche at his word and will not take disciplinary action.
As for the basketball, we'll get to see how much burn Flip Saunders gives the new pieces tonight and where they fit in. Also we'll see exactly how unhappy Bibby looks. The word is that Bibby wants a buyout so he can join a contender. Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld discussed the possibility, which you can read all about over at Bullets Forever.