In preparation for the season opener between the Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards, I caught up with Thomas Pruitt (@TheRealTPruitt) from SBNation Bullets Forever to talk about the Wizards and the game. The questions are mine, the answers are his. Check out what he had to say to get ready for the game.
1. John Wall is getting better every year. What's your expectations for him this season?
More of the same, basically. Wall took an enormous, if predictable, leap forward last year, going from a an occasionally brilliant, occasionally frustrating athlete with great floor vision to a bona fide, game-managing floor general who also just happened to be able to get to the rim at will. This year I'd like to see him reign in his shot selection a bit more, cutting down on the long twos and taking advantage of all of the weapons GM Ernie Grunfeld has surrounded him with. Gortat is a great pick and roll player, Nene is an excellent cutter and glue guy, and Beal and Pierce are elite spot up shooters who can also facilitate the offense. All of this talent should allow Wall to focus even more on what he does well - creating fast break points and open threes, playing disruptive defense from the top of the key, and slashing to the basket for an and-one when the offense breaks down - while limiting his long twos and gambles.
2. Nobody like Paul Pierce...well, at least not in Miami. Do you like Pierce? And what do you think he will bring to this team that you didn't have last year?
I like Paul Pierce and would love him if he was three or four years younger. Pierce gives Washington a guy who's won a championship and has spent more time guarding Lebron James in the playoffs than just about anyone, plus he's the only guy on the team who can create a good shot off the dribble in the half court. Assuming he's roughly as good as he was last year, he should finally give the team someone who can put up points when the transition game is struggling and teams are packing the paint.
3. Last year the Wizards advanced to the second round and pushed the Pacers to six. What is a successful season this year in your eyes?
About the same. Last year's East sucked and the Wizards over-performed in my opinion, taking advantage of career years from Trevor Ariza and relatively good health from Wall and Gortat. The only teams that have a realistic shot of beating a healthy Washington team are Miami, Toronto, Chicago and Cleveland so the odds are good Washington makes the second round. Now, whether or not they can beat any of those teams is another matter. Chicago and Miami seem like the best bets, but the Wizards lack of a wing stopper under 37 years old will likely be their undoing against the Raptors or Cavaliers.
4. There's lots of suspensions and injuries on the Wizards' side in regard to the opening game in Miami. What will the Wizards do to make up for all the absences?
Probably play abnormal big or give a lot of extra minutes to Otto Porter. Washington has a ton of power forwards so it's not inconceivable you see the occasional big line up at some point. My guess, though, is that they'll play Otto Porter as much as possible to make up for the absence of Pierce and Beal while giving some spot minutes to Garrett Temple and Rasual Butler. Neither is what you'd call good but they can defend their position and hit the occasional open shot. Beal and Pierce help the team with their shooting, sure, but the main thing they bring to the table that can't be replicated is their off ball movement and the attention it draws from defenses. Look for Washington to run a lot of predictable sets and for the offense to stall out a bit in the second half once Spoelstra adjusts accordingly.
5. Give us your thoughts and predictions for the game!
I'm expecting an interesting game, as Washington is basically crippled while Miami is adjusting to the loss of a certain star wing (James Jones, obviously), and will probably play with a chip on their shoulder. If I had to bet, my money would be on Miami winning a relatively low-scoring game.
The Heat and Wizards play Wednesday night, 7:30 PM in Miami.
Check back soon for our Gametime Preview.