Understanding the Insanity of the Miami Heat's Loss to the Washington Wizards

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterDecember 4, 2012

The Miami Heat lost to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

Let's try that again. The defending champions fell to the worst team in the NBA, one that had but one win through its first 14 games. Miami's Big Three combined for 70 points, including a triple-double (26 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) from LeBron James.

And yet, even the reigning MVP and Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" couldn't rescue the Heat from the "greatness" of Kevin Seraphin, A.J. Price, Martell Webster and Jordan Crawford.

Of course, Jordan Crawford knows a thing or two about embarrassing LeBron.

It takes more than mojo, though, for this Wizards team to give the Heat their comeuppance. Washington ranked dead last in the NBA in offensive rating by a hefty margin coming into the evening.

Yet, somehow, the Wiz managed to roll up 105 points on 48.1 percent shooting against a squad that rode suffocating defense to the Larry O'Brien Trophy this past June.

A poor shooting performance by Ray Allen (4-of-12 from the field, 3-of-9 from three) certainly helps. So does Rashard Lewis starting in place of an injured Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers exiting the game after just 10 minutes with a jammed finger, and Norris Cole sitting with a strained groin. Those factors all played into the lowly Wizards never relinquishing the lead after the 6:26 mark of the first quarter, expanding it to 12 in the third, and holding on down the stretch as Miami launched brick after brick, be it from three or from the line.

And, perhaps, there's something to be said for the fact that this was the Wizards' third straight win over the Heat dating back to last season. Except, the two L's from 2011-12 came during the last week of the season, when Erik Spoelstra so frequently rested his stars in preparation for what turned out to be a long and grueling playoff run.

Miami had its most important hands on deck this time around, but it wasn't enough. Not with the John Wall-less Wizards desperately seeking Win No. 2 of the 2012-13 campaign. Not with the Heat having taken hits on the defensive end all season. And certainly not with LeBron et al. looking ahead to a big Thursday night clash with the New York Knicks, to whom they lost by 20 in early November.

Struggling against a far inferior opponent is nothing new for these Heat, though. Six times this season they've had to engineer fourth-quarter comebacks to avoid the sort of humiliation that caught up to them in the nation's capital. They closed out the month of November by nearly succumbing to a San Antonio Spurs squad that drew a $250,000 fine from David Stern for sending Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home well before tipoff.

It would appear, then, that the Heat have fallen victim in the early going to the same complacency that so often plagues defending champions. They know how long the season is and how much longer it will be if they take care of business in the playoffs. They have their eyes on a much bigger prize than the approval of Washington Redskins sensation Robert Griffin III in December. 

Not that there's any comfort to be taken in helping Randy Wittman dodge the pink-slip fairy for another day. Not that Spoelstra should be happy with his team's consistently lackluster effort on the defensive end. Not that this makes a full season of small ball look any smarter for Miami or excuses a poor performance against another jazzed-up opponent.

Nonetheless, there's a reason nearly everyone who's ever won a title claims that defending it is even more difficult. There are expectations with which to contend, fatigue and apathy to battle, and the best shot of every foe to absorb from night to night. It's a ton for any team to handle, especially over the course of an 82-game season.

There's no need for folks on South Beach to panic; the Eastern Conference is short on challengers to Miami's preeminence, while the season is long on opportunities for this team to get back to playing championship-caliber basketball. What matters is not a slow start in the fall, but a furious finish in the spring. (As if 12-4 were a bad thing.)

Still, when the history of basketball is written and the details of this December night have dissipated into the ether, there will be but one line that lingers.

The Miami Heat lost to the Washington Wizards.