It felt like the Joel Anthony Memorial Protest Game.
A few hours after the Heat traded Anthony, the well-liked but little-used reserve center, to the rival Boston Celtics, the defending back-to-back champions found themselves behind by 30 points in the first half to Washington Wizards. The Heat never recovered and lost 114-97 in a game that spoiled the season debut of reserve center Greg Oden.
“It was surprising for all of us,” LeBron James of Anthony’s trade. “No one saw it coming. We read it on the Internet. We didn’t see it coming. It was tough for all of us.”
Said Pat Riley before the game: “He has been here for seven years and this is very, very, very, very, very, very hard to do this."
And the loss that followed the trade was hard to watch.
It marked the first three-game losing streak for Miami in two years and ended a 22-game winning streak against teams in the Southeast Division. Miami (27-11) has now lost eight games this season to teams with losing records. Golden State and Indiana are the only teams with winning records with victories against the Heat.
The excuse after back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets was that the team needed some rest, but the Heat looked just as sluggish and disinterested after four straight off days and a trip to the White House. James, who lost his voice during the game, was highly critical of the team afterward.
The Heat was outscored 43-18 in the first quarter, gave up 69 points in the first half and allowed the Wizards 28 fast-break points overall. Washington’s largest lead was 34 points.
“For us to win we have to defend and there’s no way we can give up 70 points in the first half, 43 points in the first quarter on 77 percent shooting, it just can’t happen,” James said. “And it’s not physical. It’s more mental than anything. Whether it’s mental fatigue, or lack of, not confidence, but lack of focus and it’s all trickling down to our play on the floor. We’ve got to figure this out, obviously. It’s a good test for us. We love adversity more than anything, and we’re definitely at that point. And my damn voice is gone and I got to try to find it, too.”
James finished with 25 points in 41 minutes and was 8 of 18 from the field. He was 9 of 10 from the free-throw line to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists.
From the beginning, it was clear the Heat had no interest in playing defense. The Wizards (18-19) scored 16 fast-break points in the first 12 minutes of the game.
“They were at a different speed,” James said. “They were playing at like 15 and we were playing at like seven. I don’t even want to give us that much credit. We were playing at like a five. They pretty much got what they wanted, and [coach Erik Spoelstra] had to call two timeouts because we didn’t have too much energy as a collective group and the connections defensively just aren’t there right now.”
The Heat played so poorly early in the game that Spoelstra decided to insert Oden because, at that point, the Heat needed a spark from somewhere.
“I had no idea he was playing,” James said of Oden.
With the Heat trailing 56-26, Oden was substituted into a regular-season NBA game for the first time in four years with 6:03 left in the first half. It has been a long road back from injury for the Portland Trail Blazers’ former No. 1 overall pick. Oden still has plenty of work ahead of him, but his contributions offered some promising signs.
Similar to his preseason appearance, Oden scored his first field goal on a dunk. Oden played about five minutes in the second quarter and then started the second half. He finished with six points and two rebounds in nine minutes.
James joked with Oden after his first dunk.
“I said, ‘How is this possible that every time you continue to sit out for long periods of time when you decide to come back you keep getting a dunk on your first attempt,” James said. “It happened in New Orleans in the preseason and it happened tonight, too, and that’s pretty cool. I’m happy for him.”