First opponent: The Washington Wizards
Projected by many to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Wizards are proving those prognostications correct.
Their off-season overhaul didn’t just lead to major changes to the roster — long-serving president Tommy Shepherd was replaced by former Clippers GM Michael Winger in a bid to reform the culture of a struggling organization.
That being said, the decisions to move on from duo Kristaps Porzingis and Bradley Beal in the summer were more than practical given their lack of any sort of growth in recent years, and the new-look Wizards aren’t short of fresh, young talent in their ranks. Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Poole are entrusted by those in D.C. to lead them into their new era whilst the youthful seventh overall draft pick Bilal Coulibaly requires patience in his development.
A 1-2 start to the season is about what you would have expected. An encouraging home victory over a turbulent Grizzlies side sat between two horrifically bad defensive performances against the Pacers and the Celtics, conceding a staggering 143 points in their opener at Indiana.
Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. has been forced to play a smaller lineup in the wake of center Daniel Gafford’s ankle injury and they are feeling the impacts on both ends of the floor. Jordan Poole’s dynamism on the offensive end and incisive playmaking are traits that will see him become something special in the league, but the Wizards’ current offense ran primarily by Poole is often too excitable; they are prone to turnovers and making the wrong shot decision. He and Kuzma registered a combined 46 field goal attempts in Saturday’s victory.
Friday’s home clash with the Wizards would represent, in theory, the Heat’s most comfortable group stage encounter and is essentially a must-win if they are to possess any chance of winning their group.
Jimmy Butler’s presence on the court will likely be a late decision, but the mood around the Kaseya Center will be glum at best if Miami fails to knock off an early-stage rebuilding franchise even in his absence.