The Miami Heat will end their brief road trip on Tuesday night when they head to the Verizon Center to face the Washington Wizards. On paper, this game looks like a gimme for the defending champions. Washington has been without star point guard John Wall all season long and has only won a single game, compared to 13 losses.
Miami has picked up right where they left off after winning a championship in 2012. The team is on a six-game winning streak and has the best record in the Eastern Conference. Interestingly enough, the Wizards are currently the NBA's worst team and just look lost on the court against experienced squads.
That isn't to say that this game is a lock for a Miami win. Washington may be last in scoring, but they are 10th in the league in rebounding compared to the Heat, who are 29th. This could play a key role against a team that often struggles against ones that outplay them in the paint.
Washington is also 16th in points allowed compared to No. 20 Miami, so the Wizards could indeed go into scrappy mode and do all they can to pull off the ultimate upset.
Time: Tuesday, December 4th, 7 p.m. EST
TV: CSNB, Sun Sports
Records: Miami Heat (12-3) vs. Washington Wizards (1-13)
Betting Lines: Miami (-11), Washington (+11), via Bovada
Injuries: Ray Allen (back, expected to play), Shane Battier (knee, doubtful), John Wall (knee, out), Trevor Booker (knee, out)
Key Storyline: Can Young Wizards Avoid Blowout Against Miami?
Both the Heat and the Wizards have something on the line entering this game. Miami is seeking to extend its winning streak to seven games, and Washington just wants to get another win in what is shaping up to be another disappointing season.
Yes, Washington may be a major underdog coming in, but they have just what it takes to make Miami squirm just a little bit. One thing the team has done well all season long is rebound, averaging about 43.1 per game. Miami is the second-worst in the league in this department at 39.1 per game.
Just the same, the Wizards are almost definitely going to lose against Miami, but that isn't going to stop them from doing all they can to avoid getting blown out yet again. They have the tools to keep the game close and will do all they can to let Miami know that a win is all but guaranteed.
Miami is likely to resort to its usual tricks against the lowly Wizards. Head coach Erik Spoelstra will try to overwhelm the young team with the run-and-gun attitude of the Big Three and create a large margin early.
He had better hope that his stars' shots are falling this game, because a bad shooting night on Miami's end could be enough for the Wizards to pull off what would otherwise be a near-impossible victory for them.
Key Matchup: Kevin Seraphin vs. Chris Bosh
Bosh has started at center for Miami all season long and has done a fairly decent job. He is averaging 19.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game and has good size and length for the position at 6'11", 235 pounds.
He will likely be matched up with Kevin Seraphin in Washington and has the advantage in experience. Seraphin is only 22 years old, barely has the size to play center at 6'9", 275 pounds and is only averaging 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds on the season.
However, do not count him out just yet.
Seraphin has really stepped up his efforts on defense as of late, averaging 8.4 rebounds over his last five games. In three of those five, he has reached double-figures in rebounding. Bosh could have his hands full all night long if Seraphin remains committed to performing well in the paint, and this is how the Wizards could actually beat the Heat.
Miami's defense has struggled all season long, and the Wizards have surely watched endless amounts of tape of the team's interior defense. As young and inexperienced as they are, they're going to want a win badly.
That makes it all the more important that Bosh beat Seraphin under the basket. If he resorts to his usual game of shooting on the outside and playing more like a power forward, then the Heat's streak could be in jeopardy.
X-Factor: LeBron James
The Heat have one distinct advantage against the Wizards in this game, all numbers aside. All season long, they have essentially used the same starting lineup, give or take a couple of games due to a regular being injured.
Washington has not been as stable. Head coach Randy Wittman has constantly shuffled the lineup in hopes of putting together a winning formula, so there is thus no way to determine who will start any given night, nor at what position.
The stage is thus set for LeBron James to absolutely go off against a young Washington team that has no stability and no leader on the floor. Even if he is guarded by a fine defender in Trevor Ariza, or even Nene, his athleticism is superior and he'll just make them look foolish.
This is a game where James simply needs to be at his best in order for Miami to absolutely dominate. He is so talented on so many different levels that there is really no reason that he shouldn't have or come close to a triple-double against Washington.
Granted, Miami wouldn't be absolutely sunk if James was having an off night. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are two stars more than capable of carrying the team in his absence.
However, James having a bad night would give the Wizards an extra bounce in their step for sure. It would motivate them to come together under one common goal: Beat the Heat.
James must thus be fully locked in on Tuesday night, lest he see his team beaten by the league's worst.
There is indeed a way for the Wizards to win this game, but their overall youth and inexperience will not allow them to execute it against Miami. The Heat are the defending champions and just too experienced, and Washington's collective inexperience will shine bright in this game.
Chris Bosh will just dominate on the defensive end, be it pulling down rebounds or blocking shots. He will take Seraphin to school all night long, and Wittman will be left searching for answers following yet another loss.
Who will win?
LeBron James will indeed have his triple-double, and Dwyane Wade will score in double figures while providing some excellent man-to-man defense. Even the veteran Ray Allen will have a fine game off the bench, sinking threes and showing Washington just why he is the best shooter in the game.
Washington's lone bright spot will be Jordan Crawford, their leading scorer at 13.1 points per game. He will once again be forced to carry the offense, and that's going to lead to a Miami victory.
Just when they thought they had the tools to avoid a blowout, Washington will instead get beaten quite badly. If they didn't think they were the NBA's worst team going into this game, they'll certainly know by the final buzzer.
Miami Heat 120, Washington Wizards 93