While the teams’ roles will be reversed when they meet in the nation’s capital on Saturday night, the playoff-bound Heat certainly won’t be looking past Washington.
The Wizards are healthier than ever and looking for a second straight upset victory over a team led by an MVP candidate, while Dwyane Wade’s Heat need wins as they jockey for favorable positioning in the Eastern Conference.
The Heat (40-36) matched a franchise low with just 15 wins last season, but a healthy Wade surrounded by an improving group of young players has brought them back to the playoffs.
They had dropped four of five going into Friday night’s game at Charlotte, but their 97-92 victory over the Bobcats - sparked by Wade’s 27 points and 10 rebounds - secured a postseason spot.
“It’s a big step for our franchise and for Pat Riley and (managing partner) Micky Arison,” first-year coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To put this team together after last season, it’s a big step. … With that said, we don’t want to stop just with this.”
Now, Miami must focus on seeding. Spoelstra’s club is currently percentage points behind Philadelphia for the important No. 5 seed in the East, and the loser of that race will have a difficult task in the first round against either Orlando or Boston.
The Heat may be a bit weakened for their final push after suffering a series of injuries against Charlotte. Michael Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal both returned after twisting their ankles, but Udonis Haslem didn’t come back after cutting his thumb on the backboard.
The Wizards (18-59) know all about playing without key contributors, but they’re suddenly healthy and they recently reminded the league that they were the East’s fifth-place team last season.
Washington’s 109-101 win over Cleveland on Thursday night featured double-doubles from center Brendan Haywood and guard Gilbert Arenas, both playing just their second game of the season. Caron Butler led the Wizards with 25 points.
“It was a very confidence-inspiring win for us,” Washington interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “We hope that this’ll give people a bit of a preview of what we will be next year. It’s what we thought we would be this year.”
But Arenas has struggled with persistent left knee problems for a second straight season, while Haywood has been out following wrist surgery. The Wizards need one more win to avoid setting the franchise record for losses.
They’ll have no problem with that if they continue to play like they did Thursday, when they shot 50.6 percent from the field against the Cavaliers’ vaunted defense. They survived 31 points from LeBron James, forcing the superstar into six turnovers.
“It’s still a meaningless win toward the record,” Arenas said. “But for us, it’s a real win. Because they’re trying to be the best. (James is) trying to win an MVP award, so they had everything to lose, and we had everything to gain.”
The same could be said of Miami, which has already earned three victories over Washington this season, holding the Wizards to an average of 78.3 points.
The Wizards went 4-0 against Miami last season, but they’re still just 5-18 in the series since the beginning of 2003-04.