The preseason is a slippery slope. Read too much into it and you can wind up totally misjudging any team or individual. Fail to take it seriously, and you can wind up overlooking both greatness and weakness.
The Heat started off sluggishly and looked as disjointed as ever. Miami was fielding their much-heralded starting unit, playing the lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside for just the second time ever. That rust showed early on, with players failing to connect on easy passes or easy shots; they shot just over 20 percent and found themselves down 16 points with 2 minutes left to play in the first quarter. Whiteside picked up two quick fouls and head coach Erik Spoelstra went to his bench earlier than expected.
That was an unexpected blessing, as the second unit played with an energy that was missing from their five starters.
Gerald Green was the catalyst early and often, showing the home crowd at the AmericanAirlines Arena his high-scoring potential. He led all scorers with 28 points (on 8-of-14 shooting) and was at his very best, showing the ability to carry a team offensively. By now, most fans know the knock on Green - he can shoot you in or out of a game - but on nights like Wednesday, it's hard to see a downside to his addition.
The Wizards were paced by John Wall early (14 points) but also got an unexpected boost from Kris Humphries. With Bradley Beal sitting out the game, Humphries showed range on his shooting and connected on two early 3-point attempts while finishing with 16 points.
Still, the story of the game was clearly Miami's reserves. Aside from Green, Miami got a nice boost from Mario Chalmers (13 points) who played with poise as a backup to Dragic, who really struggled from the field (going just 2-of-11 for 6 points).
Tyler Johnson also made a case for more playing time, providing what might have been the play of the night:
With Green, Johnson and Josh McRoberts leading the way, the Heat were able to climb back from that early deficit and a Wade jumper actually gave them a 53-52 lead going into the second half.
But the third quarter was similar to the first, with the starting unit again playing without any chemistry. The Wizards were able to finally get Marcin Gortat going and the "Polish Hammer" scored most of his 18 points after halftime. Washington held a 13-point lead late in the third when Chalmers scored four straight to cut the lead.
The Wizards kept the lead for most of the fourth quarter until a Johnson 3-pointer put Miami ahead 103-100 with 2:23 left in the game. Washington would take the lead back briefly but Wade and Green combined for the final six points of the game to seal the deal and the rest of the group played some inspired defense.
The win, while meaningless, was a good one. Miami's bench has been largely criticized this offseason and some don't expect much consistency or production from this group. But they scored 67 points (as opposed to just 43 for the starting unit) and looked far more in sync and energized. That's truly the issue, with Miami's best five players going just 17-of-54 and turning the ball over five times. Whiteside looked out of sorts for much of the first half but did wind up finishing with four blocks and eight rebounds to go along with his 10 points. Deng struggled mightily (just four points) and Bosh shot poorly (4-of-14) on his way to 13 points.
The team will play their final preseason game on Friday at New Orleans, taking on the Pelicans. That will be another opportunity for the starters to continue to find the connection they need before the regular season begins on Wednesday, Oct. 28.