Well, the Wizards certainly played better against the Suns than they did against Indiana last Friday. But this time, they simply lost to a better team. It’s another day, another loss … the Wizards’ fourth in a row with their record now standing at 2-5. One would hope that this doesn’t become routine, but that didn’t keep members of the media from groaning “feels like last year” as they made their way to the media room to wait for Flip Saunders’ press conference.
Of course, I wasn’t operating under an “official” media capacity last season, but I can imagine letting out a sigh, shrugging my shoulders, and wondering what to ask Saunders as I did on Sunday. But this isn’t like last year. There isn’t a sense that losing is inevitable. This team conveys a strong belief that everything will come together with time, health … and more trust on offense.
The Wizards started against Phoenix not necessarily lacking energy, but were plagued by defensive mismatch problems … a theme that’s not unique to this one game. While Fabricio Oberto concentrated on Amar’e Stoudemire, Brendan Haywood had to worry about Channing Frye and his three-point shooting, spreading the court ways. Frye finished 4-8 from deep.
Haywood seemed to have trouble moving his feet fast enough to cover all the offensive looks from the Suns. At times, the spinning and turning Haywood was doing on defense looked to be some sort of interpretive dance in the paint. The Wizards center was curiously limited to 11 and a half minutes in the first half, but finished the game as a rebounding (10) and shot blocking (5) presence in his 32 total minutes.
Many of the issues can also be attributed how tough it is to guard Steve Nash. Often, it wasn’t the guy setting the screen and rolling who caused trouble for the Wizards. Rather, it was the secondary cutter who broke free as the Washington help defense became focused on Nash and the screener. Nash finished with 17 assists, two more than the Wizards’ team total … which became a primary topic of discussion after the game.
Randy Foye, whom Sauders said he started because of his offensive consistency, was an immediate target of the Suns’ offense. Jason Richardson scored the game’s first four points in the post against Foye. Grant Hill also got in on the action and there wasn’t much the 6’4″ guard could do. After the game, Flip called playing Foye a “Catch-22″. What’s a coach to do when he needs to get the offense going?
And therein lies the unexpected problem, the offense. With the Wizards holding the Suns to 102 points, forcing 21 turnovers and getting 23 points off them, the defense became a secondary issue. What exactly do the Wizards need to do to, in Gilbert Arenas’ words, “put the ball in the basket”?
“It’s a never ending thing here lately, our offense has been stagnant. And we’re struggling offensively, which is putting a lot of undue pressure on us defensively,” said Saunders. “The ball was sticking too much at times. Guys are seeing guys struggling and somebody comes in and tries to do it on their own sometimes, and try to do a little bit too much instead of trusting other teammates.”
Missing shooters like Mike Miller and Antawn Jamison hurts, and it didn’t go unmentioned during post-game interviews. But also on Sunday, some very make-able shots were not falling. Caron Butler missed several easy shots at the rim, and many key jumpers just didn’t seem to go down as the Wizards shot 39.1% from the field as the team, their fourth consecutive game under forty-percent.
A lot of the offensive stagnancy results from the Wizards’ simply not trusting the system and each other to make plays … the word “trust” becoming a prevailing theme. It’s partly due to the time it takes for teammates to learn how to play with each other and develop a comfort level. But part of it is also finding a way to get everyone on the same page. This starts with the coach and his point guard. Arenas seems to want his teammates to be more decisive and shoot the ball quickly. Saunders, on the other hand, wants more ball movement.
“We’re not there as far as moving the ball. We don’t make that one extra pass. Again, we’re taking too many contested shots. When you’re taking contested shots, it usually means that you probably put the ball on the floor and you’re trying to take a shot on your own instead of creating a shot for someone else. If we were a hockey team, we’d have no hockey assists. You know, the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the score,” said Saunders.
Time and trust. It’s the assumption that ball movement and offensive flow will happen once the former goes by leading to the latter’s ability to develop. When will this happen? The clichéd response is ‘only time will tell’. I guess Wizards fans just have to trust that it will.