|Wizards open their season against Heat|
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards take the first step toward putting a disappointing 2017-18 season behind them when the host the Miami Heat in their season opener on Thursday night.
The Wizards finished 43-39 a year ago, earning the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round playoff exit -- not what they expected when the season began.
Washington returns four starters and replaces traded-away center Marcin Gortat with Dwight Howard, who averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds last season with Charlotte and joins his fourth club in four years.
Howard sat out training camp and the preseason with a lower back injury but practiced on Monday. He's questionable for Thursday night.
"We'll see how he feels tomorrow and make the decision then," coach Scott Brooks told the team's website. "He missed a lot of time. He's had three good practices. He's just day-to-day. We're in no rush."
When healthy, Howard will join returning starters John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris.
Washington boosted its bench in the offseason, acquiring free-agent forward Jeff Green and guard Austin Rivers (in the Gortat trade with the Los Angeles Clippers) and drafting forward Troy Brown.
Brooks wants the Wizards to shoot more 3-pointers his season, something they did too little of a year ago. They also had a troubling propensity to play down to their opposition, leading to the losses that doomed them to the eighth seed.
Thursday night they welcome a banged-up Miami team playing the second of road back-to-backs. The Heat lost to the Orlando Magic 104-101 on Wednesday night after their comeback from a double-digit deficit fell short.
The Heat cut a 12-point deficit to one and had the ball with 3.5 seconds left when Miami forward Josh Richardson barely stepped on the baseline, turning the ball over. The fourth-year player took a career-high 21 shots and finished with 21 points.
"He should be comfortable with that," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the Sun Sentinel regarding whether those totals are expected to continue for Richardson, "and take responsibility and step up to that kind of challenge every single night. Our team needs him to be assertive and aggressive. I have no problem with the shots that he took and he feels that it was his responsibility down at the end."
Goran Dragic led the Heat with 26 points and Hassan Whiteside totaled 12 points and 18 rebounds.
Miami was without James Johnson (sports hernia), Dion Waiters (left ankle), Wayne Ellington (left ankle), and Justise Winslow (right hamstring), and they are expected to miss Thursday's game as well.
Early foul trouble for Rodney McGruder meant more playing time for Dwyane Wade, who played 23 minutes in the opener of his farewell season. He finished with nine points.
"I'm not going to play him playoff minutes or anything near that right now," Spoelstra told the Sun Sentinel. "We can build as the season goes. He knows how to approach an 82-game season even better than I do. But I plan to work with him on that to make sure that we're hitting in our strides when we need to."
The teams split their four-game series last season.