Ex-Cats

Hobbled John Wall leads shorthanded Wizards in victory over Heat

The Washington Wizards' John Wall goes to the basket during the second quarter on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
The Washington Wizards' John Wall goes to the basket during the second quarter on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. Tribune News Service

For the second time in seven days, the Washington Wizards were tasked with toppling the Eastern Conference’s best team on its home floor. This time, it was the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena, and this time, the Wizards were laughably wounded.

Already down to 10 players their previous two games, the Wizards didn’t know whether John Wall, who hobbled off the Verizon Center floor with a right knee injury less than 24 hours earlier, was going to be in uniform to guide them Monday night. Wall arrived in South Florida unsure about his status. He underwent treatment around the clock on the bruised knee, waking up early Monday morning to continue the nonstop treatment.

He went through his pregame routine and walked off the floor 60 minutes before tip-off still unsure whether he was going to play. It wasn’t until he participated in the layup line, moments before game time, that he decided to give it a go. And the All-Star point guard didn’t skip a beat, continuing his recent torrid stretch to orchestrate Washington’s 114-103 victory.

“He’s one of the toughest guys that I have coached,” Coach Randy Wittman said.

Racing up and down the floor at his usual frantic pace, Wall exploded for a team-high 26 points on 9-for-13 shooting and seven assists, capitalizing on the spacing provided by the tiny-ball lineups Washington was forced to utilize for the third consecutive game. It was his fourth 26-plus point effort in six days, nearly a week after he dropped 35 points and 10 assists in the Wizards’ victory over the then-first-place Cleveland Cavaliers, which the inconsistent Wizards followed with a home loss to the dreadful Los Angeles Lakers.

“When I step up and play well, this team has been better,” Wall said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing lately, giving ourselves a chance to win. … I’m probably one of the toughest people you'll see. I’m a competitor. I can’t say if it wasn’t broke I wouldn’t play because I did that before, but it was just a time that we really want to play well.”

Wall teamed up with Bradley Beal and Gary Neal, who each contributed 21 points, to pull the Wizards (9-10) away in a tightly contested fourth quarter. Beal and Neal scored seven straight between them to break a 103-all tie during the final two minutes. The run included controversy: Beal appeared to travel on a drive to the basket, but the call was not made and he kicked the ball out to Neal for a crucial three-pointer.

Heat forward Chris Bosh, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, later picked up two technical fouls and was ejected with 28.1 seconds left on the clock. Wall then made four free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

“That’s what we need to do,” said Beal, who shot 10 of 24 from the field and added four assists. “I didn’t make as many as I wanted to, but those guys did a tremendous job of shooting the ball well, creating off the dribble and closing the game out.”

Miami (12-7) shot 59.4 percent from the field but committed 17 turnovers. Washington scored 24 points off them and attempted 92 field goals to the Heat’s 69 to offset hot shooting. The Wizards were thin in the front court without Nene (calf), Drew Gooden III (calf) and Marcin Gortat (personal) for the third straight game but got Kris Humphries back from an ankle injury to provide some much-needed size. Humphries had two points and two rebounds in 17 minutes. Otto Porter Jr., the slender 6-foot-9 forward, helped out down low again, recording 13 points and a career-high 14 rebounds after setting his previous career high of 11 on Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks.

Dwyane Wade tallied 26 points on 12-for-15 shooting with nine assists for Miami, and Hassan Whiteside added 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting. But the Wizards used their extremely small configurations to their advantage and constantly sought to use pick and rolls to create favorable matchups with the Heat’s slowest big man on the perimeter.

The strategy coerced Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra into benching Whiteside late to counter. Whiteside played just 23 minutes and 10 after halftime despite his dominance around the basket.

“They probably had us in more cross-matches, miscommunications than we’ve had all season,” said Spoelstra, whose team entered with the NBA’s second-ranked defense and hadn’t allowed more than 109 points in a game this season.

The Wizards led by 14 points in the first half but found themselves trailing 78-71 with 4 minutes 28 seconds remaining in the third quarter after the Heat started the period 11 of 14 from the field. Wittman then called a timeout, and Washington responded with five straight points to spark a 16-6 spree to close the quarter. The Heat eventually tied it at 101 but could never regain the lead as Wall, gimpy knee and all, pushed Washington ahead with a couple free throws for two of his 10 fourth-quarter points on a night his team needed him once again.

“He’s a warrior at the end of the day,” Beal said.

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