Improving Wizards battle slumping Heat
MIAMI -- The Washington Wizards are just 2-7 on the road. The Miami Heat are 2-8 at home.
Anyone have a coin to flip?
Yes, the Monday night game at AmericanAirlines Arena figures to be anybody's contest. However, between the two teams currently out of the Eastern Conference playoff race, it is easy to view the Heat as the struggling squad and the Wizards as the club trending upward.
The Heat (7-17) are riding a five-game losing streak.
Meanwhile, the Wizards (9-13) won their past two games and are 6-4 over their past 10.
Washington, coming off a 110-105 home victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, is benefitting from outstanding production by point guard John Wall, who has 12 double-doubles this season. He produced 24 points and 11 assists against the Bucks.
Then again, Wall -- the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft -- is a three-time All-Star in his prime at age 26. His production is expected.
What is truly propelling the Wizards in their mini-streak is a "small-ball" lineup that is closing out games of late.
Washington coach Scott Brooks has been sitting 6-foot-10, 245-pound power forward Markieff Morris and replacing him with 6-7, 205-pound small forward Kelly Oubre, and the plan is working.
Oubre is seeing late-game minutes with the rest of the starters: Wall; 6-5, 205-pound shooting guard Bradley Beal; 6-8, 200-pound forward Otto Porter; and 6-11, 240-pound center Marcin Gortat.
"It's a versatile lineup," Oubre told the Washington Post. "It's a quick lineup. It's a momentum-changer. I like that lineup a lot."
Brooks obviously likes it, too, as that five-man grouping had the second-best defensive rating in the league over the past 10 games (minimum 20 minutes together).
It is a small sample size, given how little those guys were out there together. Still, it is something the Wizards can build on.
"It's something I've been considering," Brooks told the Post. "I'm trying to manipulate the game so we can get to that lineup."
Part of what makes the lineup defensively is that Porter and Oubre have long arms, and that helps them get their hands in the passing lanes. Oubre's wingspan is 7-2. Porter's wingspan is 7-1.
The lineup is not strong on the backboards, an area Miami may be able to exploit with center Hassan Whiteside. But the Wizards -- especially with Oubre, Porter, Beal and Wall -- are able to switch easily, defusing a pick-and-roll-based offense.
"Oubre has made great strides in being able to defend multiple lineups," Brooks said. "We have to find a lineup that can defend and provide offense."
In other story lines:
--Udonis Haslem, a seldom-used Heat forward, is back with the team after missing Miami's 105-100 loss at Chicago on Saturday with an excused absence.
Haslem, who has played his entire 13th-year NBA career with the Heat, was allowed to travel to Orlando, Fla., so he could see his son play in a state football final. Kedonis Haslem is a 6-3, 290-pound lineman who helped lead Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas to the Class 7A championship.
Kedonis Haslem, a three-star recruit, has offers from Michigan and South Carolina among Power Five schools.
The idea to let Udonis Haslem see his son play came with the Heat's blessing.
"He's missed all of his son's (prior) playoff games, senior year," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Haslem. "UD (Haslem) has been with us for 13 years. You miss so many so many moments. We felt like this would be a moment that he wasn't going to miss and regret years from now."
--Whiteside is expected to play despite some nagging knee and hip injuries.