MIAMI (AP) — While the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat appear poised to make a run at a second consecutive title, their rebounding efforts haven’t resembled those of a championship caliber club.
Coming off arguably their most disappointing rebounding display of the season, the Heat will surely be looking to control the glass Sunday against the NBA-worst Washington Wizards.
Miami (22-9), which is shooting a league-high 49.1 percent and among the NBA leaders with 103.1 points per game, has thrived in almost every facet aside from rebounding. The Heat rank 29th in the league with 38.7 boards per game, an issue that played a huge role in Friday’s 96-89 loss to visiting Chicago.
Miami was outrebounded 48-28 and outscored 20-7 in second-chance points while allowing 19 offensive boards.
“This is something that we’re going to fix,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re improving in so many other areas, particularly offensively. Rebounding’s the area that has to take the priority right now.
“We have enough guys who are capable of it. Individually guys are capable of doing their job better, either block out or chase down rebounds. We need to have some career years from guys on the glass.”
LeBron James, who had 30 points Friday, is averaging a career-high 8.5 rebounds but isn’t getting much help. Chris Bosh is pulling down 7.6 per game – his lowest mark since posting 7.4 as a rookie in 2003-04 – and Udonis Haslem is averaging a career-low 4.9
“We’ve got to go out and do it,” said James, averaging 32.7 points over his last three games. “If the ball is in your region, try to go up and get it. If not, box out your guy and let somebody else go get it.”
Miami had surprisingly dropped three straight in this series – including a 105-101 road loss Dec. 4 – before cruising to a 102-72 home win 11 days later thanks in part to winning the rebounding battle 43-40.
“On Sunday we must win,” Bosh said, “and we must rebound to win.”
The Heat are 15-3 at home and haven’t dropped back-to-back games on their own court since a four-game slide Feb. 27-March 8, 2011. That doesn’t bode well for a Wizards team that’s gone 1-14 on the road, dropping its last six there by an average of 15.5 points.
Washington (4-27) visits South Beach looking to avoid a fifth consecutive defeat overall after suffering a heartbreaking 115-113 double-overtime loss to Brooklyn on Friday.
Rookie Bradley Beal had a season-high 24 points while Jordan Crawford scored 23 for the Wizards, who led by eight with just over a minute remaining in the first overtime before coming up short on Joe Johnson’s jumper with 0.7 seconds left in the second OT.
“We gotta close that one out in order for us to be the team we want to be,” said Garrett Temple, who dished out a career-high 11 assists.
Friday’s result was just the latest chapter in what’s been another frustrating season for Washington, which has 12 defeats by six points or fewer.
“How many times have we been here? I’ve lost count,” said coach Randy Wittman, whose team was outrebounded 54-41 on Friday. “We’ve go to keep striving to find the magic of closing a game out and having guys step up.”
Though John Wall (left knee), A.J. Price (broken right hand) and Trevor Booker (right knee) are still working their way back from injury, Trevor Ariza could return Sunday. The nine-year veteran has missed the last 16 games since straining his left calf against Miami on Dec. 4.
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