The Miami Heat are a first place team again after missing the playoffs last season and their stiff defense could key a double-digit win over the reeling short-handed Wizards Monday.
With the home team looking like an elite team for the first time since the departure of LeBron James, the struggling and short-handed Washington Wizards (8-10, 8-10 ATS) could potentially be in danger of getting blown out Monday night as they pay a visit to those Miami Heat (12-6, 9-9 ATS) at American Airlines Arena in Miami, FL at 7:35 ET in a game available on Sunshine Sports.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Miami as a decided home favorite for this contest with the current line at -8½ with odds of -105.
Are Heat an NBA Finals Threat?
The Heat reached the NBA Finals four straight years before last season, all with LeBron of course, but then James bolted for his hometown Cavaliers last year and the Heat failed to make the NBA Playoffs even while playing the weak Eastern Conference, finishing eight games below .500. Thus, Miami was as high as 50/1 on the NBA Futures this preseason, and yet here the Heat sit in first place in the Southeast Division at 12-6, one game ahead of the Atlanta Hawks!
Meanwhile, the Wizards were supposed to be contenders in the Southeast this season after returning to the playoffs after a long post-season absence and even winning a round each of the last two seasons, but instead they have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments at 8-10. Granted, injuries have played a role in Washington being the losing NBA pick in six of the last eight games, but this team was not playing much defense this year even when healthy.
Defense Key to Miami Revival
The Heat were supposed to face LeBron and his current team the Cavaliers on Saturday, but James was scratched from that game to give him some rest after playing monstrous minutes in an overtime game on Friday, and thus Miami had very little difficulty in a 99-84 triumph while limiting Cleveland to 36.5 percent shooting overall including just 6-for-28, 21.4 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
The absence of James notwithstanding, that suffocating defense is the reason that the Heat have surprised some folks this season and may continue to do so as long as it holds up. Miami leads the NBA in field goal percentage allowed at a mere 40.7 percent while ranking second in points against (92.2 per game) and third in three-point defense (30.8 percent).
Sure it is early, but there is really no reason why the fine defense cannot continue for Coach Erik Spoelstra, who is naturally defensive-minded and has gone back to stressing defense with LeBron out of town. And if the Heat can go on and win the Southeast while holding off a Hawks team that many agree overachieved by being the top seed in the East last season, it could very well lead to a showdown between James’s Cavs and his former team the Heat in the East Finals!
In a twist of irony, one of the two Washington wins in the last eight games came over those Cavaliers in Cleveland as a huge underdog, although that was probably just an anomaly as it was not the first time one of LeBron’s teams got lazy in a regular season game that it was suppose to win easily. And besides the Wizards have so many injuries that they are having trouble putting a full team on the court, dressing just 10 players three times in the last eight days.
Nene (calf), Kris Humphries (ankle) and Drew Gooden (calf) are all currently out with injuries while Marcin Gortat is tending to a family emergency at his home in Poland and is doubtful to return for this game. Furthermore, the best player on the Washington team John Wall was carried off the court in the fourth quarter with a knee injury last night in a 116-104 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks as the Wizards began this back-to-back.
Thankfully for the Wizards though there was no structural damage to the knee and there is actually a chance that Wall will play in this game depending on the amount of soreness he has. But while Wall’s physical news may be encouraging, his recent attitude may not be as he questioned the coaching tactics of Coach Randy Whitman last week, which is never a good sign regarding the state of affairs in the locker room.
Also, Whitman is another defensive coach and the Wizards played some of the better defense in the league the last two seasons, a huge trigger to their return to the playoffs. However, their lack of effort defensively was apparent this year long before the injury bug hit, as Washington is now 25th in the NBA in points against at 104.8 per game, 24th in field goal percentage allowed at 45.6 percent and dead last of the 30 NBA teams in three-point defense at a brutal 39.8 percent.
Not Liking the Sunshine
Finally, the Wizards have not really enjoyed their recent visits to South Beach with the Heat going 5-1 ATS in the last six head-to-head meetings here in Miami. Also, Washington is 11-30-2 ATS in its last 43 games after allowing 100 points or more in its previous game and 3-10-1 ATS in its last 14 games following a straight up loss by more than 10 points.
The Wizards are the type of team that tends to stay bad for a while once it gets bad, and when you throw in the injuries and some possible dissension, lay the points at home with Miami as it hosts Washington on Monday.
NBA Pick: Heat -8½ (-105)