1. Bad Habits Finally Catch Up To Heat
WASHINGTON -- This was an I-told-you-so moment for Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
"I think we all know the lesson," Spoelstra said after watching the last-place Washington Wizards complete the biggest upset of the young NBA season by beating the Eastern Conference-leading Heat.
"You can only go to the well so many times."
On Tuesday night, the Heat hit rock bottom and came up empty. After digging so many holes from lethargic starts and rallying so many times from so many deficits, not even a triple-double from LeBron James could direct the Heat out of this one.
Ray Allen couldn't shoot his team out, either.
Dwyane Wade, despite the spring finally returning to his legs after nagging knee and foot soreness, couldn't lift the Heat out of this one. This time, those dangerous tendencies the Heat have overcome so frequently in recent weeks caught up with them in a 105-101 loss to a Wizards team that improved to 2-13 on the season.
The Heat's six-game winning streak, a run filled with signature, come-from-behind victories, was ended by what was, for all intents and purposes, a statement loss.
And it wasn't as if the Heat couldn't see this one coming.
Hours before Tuesday's setback, Spoelstra, James and Wade spoke at length after shootaround on Georgetown University's campus about the potential problems looming if Miami didn't address some bad habits. But even then, there were conflicting messages within the ranks.
"We're notorious for starting off games slow, for whatever reason," Wade said Tuesday. "But we've been blessed enough to have enough talent to be able to pick it up at an extreme level. Hopefully, we can put together a 48-minute game soon, where we're playing good from start to finish."
Instead, the Heat never led Tuesday night after the early stages of the first quarter. This game got away from Miami the moment Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III walked into the building and took his courtside seat midway through the first quarter.
Griffin's presence sparked the crowd, the Wizards' bench sparked their rally and the Heat never regained their footing. They didn't match Washington's energy. They couldn't overcome the Wizards' depth. And when it was time to flip their proverbial switch to close the show, the Heat had a succession of players miss open shots late.
"Shots that we're accustomed to making didn't fall for us," said James, who had his first triple-double of the season with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 43 minutes.
"We're an older bunch, so it takes us a little while to sort of get into the flow of the game and to figure out what's going on out there so we have to do a better job of starting the game off strong. We've got to find a way to get the energy up more for the start, instead of feeling out the game for the first 12 minutes. But we'll do a better job of that."
James, however, stopped short of suggesting there's some lesson the Heat need to take to heart from the result.
"It's no lesson from the loss. It's just a loss," James said. "We don't need a loss [to be a lesson]. We understand that every team we play is going to play their best. They're going to make shots they don't make against other teams. I mean, [Washington] had a season high with 31 assists. They scored 60 points in the first half. Teams are going to be up for us. We have to be up for teams, too."
James is right to an extent. It would be irresponsible to make too much of any one loss. Teams will have bad nights. The Heat just happened to add injury to the insult of losing to the team with the league's worst record.
The Wizards, who have been without star point guard John Wall because of a knee injury, didn't just beat the Heat. They beat them up, too. Already short-handed at point guard with backup Norris Cole sidelined with a groin strain, the Heat lost Mario Chalmers in the second quarter to a jammed finger. Wade, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller all were limited down the stretch with nagging injuries.
With the Heat down to no available point guards, James had to regroup and play the rest of the way exclusively with the ball in his hands. He admitted after the game that playing all 24 minutes of the second half at the point took a toll late in the game. Twice, he settled for -- and missed -- long jumpers in the final minute.
Allen, who had made three game-winning 3-pointers in November, missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter against the Wizards. Wade also was a nonfactor down the stretch, taking just two shots and scoring only three of his 24 points in the fourth quarter.
The Heat's offense disappeared, but the bigger problem was that their defense never really arrived in Washington. The Wizards had five players score in double figures, with Jordan Crawford torching Miami from the outside with 22 points and Kevin Seraphin doing his best Wes Unseld impression in the paint -- particularly in the second half -- with 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go with 10 rebounds.
"These are the kinds of games we've been playing," Wade said. "It's not out of the ordinary for us."
It was only a matter of time before these kind of games would catch up with the Heat. Outcomes such as Tuesday's leave Spoelstra in a precarious position. Two weeks ago, he was praising his team's resilience and how his players crave the opportunity to come up big in close games.
Now, he has to resist the urge to publicly push and prod his players too much too soon. The Heat are defending champions who know seasons aren't decided in December.
"You can still strive for perfection," Spoelstra said. "You're never going to obtain it, obviously. But why try to accept something less? I don't see how that benefits you from building a habit of not playing your best or not attempting to play your best. We can't accept it. It's a reality you're not going to play great every night. But striving and pushing is part of it."
The Heat can easily dismiss a loss, even a bad one.
"We don't want to be at our best right now anyway," Wade said before Tuesday's game. "At the end of the season, we want to be playing our best basketball."
"We've still got a long way to go," he said.
Especially if they keep falling behind.
The previous six games, the Heat were able to rally. But in Washington, bad habits only left them reeling.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Jordan Crawford contributed a composed 22 points off the bench on 7-for-16 shooting. He even dropped six dimes to only one turnover. He's far from "there," but Crawford is maturing under the distraction of a bad record. Late in the game, when Miami doubled the ball up top, he made the right pass. When the Wizards needed a big shot to keep the Heat at bay, Crawford got that, too.
LVP: The Heat, for playing like their minds are in the playoffs. Sure, an early-December game against the woeful Wizards won't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but the lackadaisical offense and poor spacing led to missed open jumpers when they counted most. Not good habits to develop.
X factor: The entire Wizards team. Five players scored in double figures (three off the bench), they attempted 29 free throws as a team (about 10 more than their average) and they totaled a season-high 31 assists (on 38 made field goals). Randy Wittman's team needed the perfect game plan, and it executed.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Alexey Shved. The rookie, usually not even the top Russian on his team, was the best player in uniform Tuesday. You like efficiency? So does Shved. He turned his first four field goal attempts into 14 points and finished with 17 on eight shots.
X factor: The long ball. The Timberwolves entered the Wells Fargo Center shooting a meager 28.6 percent on 3-pointers, good for last in the NBA. They improved on that. Led by Derrick Williams, Josh Howard and pretty much anyone else who chucked one from beyond 23 feet, the visitors hit seven of their first nine and finished a season-high 13-of-25 from long range.
That was ... a great night for the other guys: With Kevin Love's outside touch yet to return from the inactive list, the less-heralded Wolves carried the night. Minnesota had seven in double figures -- led by Shved's 17 -- and got at least six points from each of its 10 players who logged minutes.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Durant. Another ho-hum stellar performance for KD: 32 points on 9-of-16 shooting, six assists and five rebounds. Yawn.
LVP: Joe Johnson. Yes, he hit some tough shots to bring the Nets back into the game in the fourth quarter, but he also shot 8-of-21 from the field, including 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
X factor: Thabo Sefolosha. He started off hot with 10 points in the first quarter and was huge late in the game, recording a key offensive rebound and putback to seal the win for the Thunder.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kobe. Not much else to say here. "Mamba" finished with 39 points and almost brought L.A. back from the dead, drilling a 3-pointer to cut Houston's lead to three. But it wasn't enough.
LVP: Jeremy Lin. In his 20 minutes, Lin went 2-for-8 for four points and just three assists. This comes on the heels of what was his best performance of the season against Utah.
X factor: With Lin completely ineffective, backup Toney Douglas kept Houston in the game with timely shots. He got the close down the stretch and finished with 22 points.
3. Tuesday's Best
Zach Randolph: One letter separates Randolph's night from LeBron's triple-double: W. Z-Bo was a monster for the Grizzlies, racking up a season-high 38 points and 22 boards in Memphis' overtime victory against Phoenix.
4. Tuesday's Worst
Miami Heat: Can you say trap game? With the Knicks up Thursday night, the Heat seemed like they were just going through the motions. The Wizards let them have it, led by the dynamic duo of Jordan Crawford and Kevin Seraphin. LeBron's triple-double was nice, but it's a consolation prize for a poor team effort in D.C.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"That was a complete game for us, start to finish. I'll be able to sleep tonight."
-- Wizards coach Randy Wittman, on his team's win over the Heat on Tuesday night in Washington.
8. What Could Have Been
9. Stat Check
The Wizards improved their record to 2-13 by defeating the mighty Heat. Washington entered the game with a .071 winning percentage (1-13), the lowest in NBA history for a team that defeated the defending champion 10 or more games into a season. The previous low was a .091 winning percentage (2-20) by the Providence Steamrollers, entering their victory over the Baltimore Bullets on Dec. 29, 1948, when the league was known as the Basketball Association of America.
10. Dunk Of The Night
MVP: Paul George. After dropping a goose egg Saturday, George scored 34 points to lead the Pacers to victory. Most impressively, he played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter while scoring 11 of his team's 20 points and hitting four tough shots when no other Pacer could create any offense.
X factor: Nate Robinson. In a game in which neither team could make anything, Indiana found a groove in the third quarter and jumped out to a 60-51 lead. Then Nate Robinson scored nine of his team's next 13 points to give Chicago a lead it wouldn't relinquish until there were just two minutes left.
Defining moment: With less than 10 seconds to play and his team down two, Joakim Noah found a cutting Luol Deng on the baseline. Noah delivered an excellent pass, and Deng attacked the rim. Roy Hibbert was the only thing that stood between him and a tie game. The 7-foot-2 center jumped high and straight to block the layup without fouling.
MVP: Going up against second-year forward Markieff Morris for most of the night, Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph did whatever he wanted against the Suns. Z-Bo notched his league-leading 14th double-double (season-high 38 points and 22 rebounds) on the season and single-handedly kept Memphis in a game it had no business winning. In overtime, Randolph once again took over, outscoring Phoenix 6-4 by himself. If he hasn't already sneaked into early MVP consideration, he certainly should after his latest performance.
Defining moment: Talent won out over heart when it counted Tuesday night. Memphis hadn't led since midway through the first quarter, but 10 points from Randolph over the final six minutes of play and a Rudy Gay jump shot with 17 seconds remaining forced overtime, and the Grizzlies handled their business from there, outscoring Phoenix 14-4 in the extra session.
That was ... admirable: Despite playing in their finale of a season-long six-game road trip, the Suns looked like the 12-3 team and the Grizzlies looked like the 7-11 team for most of the night. Phoenix received wonderful bench contributions from Luis Scola (16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals), Jared Dudley (13 points and 3 assists) and Jermaine O'Neal (12 points and 2 blocks), but it was all for naught, as the Suns faded when it mattered most.
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