As a Washington Wizards blogger, I really never thought I’d write this, but for some perspective on the Wizards loss to the Magic tonight, fans should look no further than LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Despite all the promising offseason moves the Miami Heat made, there was a lack of chemistry on display in their opener against the Celtics. Wade, Bosh and LeBron were battling unfamiliarity, Mike Miller was injured, there were jitters, and they were facing a Celtics team whose core had been together for three years. The Heat looked out of sync much of the night, and although they were in great position to win the game towards the end, they fell just short of victory.
That night, everyone picked the Heat apart, and discussed why they couldn’t win it all and why they would not dominate as so many of those same writers and bloggers had picked them to do before the season. Then the very next night, the Heat rolled to victory over a Sixers team who presented much more favorable match-ups, and the opening night loss to the Celtics was temporarily forgotten.
So let’s bring this around to the Washington Wizards.
As Kyle pointed out earlier in the week, the Orlando Magic present matchup nightmares for this Wizards squad. McGee is not strong enough to guard Dwight Howard, Blatche isn’t quick enough to guard Rashard Lewis, no one on the Wizards roster can guard a motivated Vince Carter, and Jameer Nelson is savvy enough to cause problems for rookie John Wall. When you throw in the fact that Gilbert Arenas was unavailable due to injury, this match up had all the ingredients of a blowout..and it didn’t disappoint.
The Wizards shot and defended horribly, they never utilized their strength, which is the running game, and they were blown out of the gym 112-83 by a team that promises to contend for an NBA title. But it’s just one game. Saturday night they play an Atlanta Hawks team that isn’t nearly as good, and then on Tuesday night, Arenas will be back (hopefully) and they will play a 76ers team that’s weaker than Atlanta. The bottom line? There’s no need to panic.
Let’s run through some highs and lows…
Since I am a blogger for the Wizards, I am used to looking at the team through local eyes. I work around Michael Lee of the Washington Post, the staff of Bullets Forever, Craig Stouffer of the Washington Examiner, Wizards Extreme, the crew at Comcast SportsNet, etc, and they dominate 90% of what I read about the Wizards. So imagine how refreshing it was to turn on TNT at 8pm, to see Kenny Smith discussing how John Wall needs to respect teammates who are less talented than he is, or Charles Barkley telling Ernie Johnson that Wall’s biggest challenge will be facing players who are better than he is. At that point you realize that the number one draft pick in the NBA is in Washington, and all eyes will be on this team (when they aren’t on the Heat of course).
Considering that Martin was one of the last three players to make the Wizards roster, the last thing I would have expected was to see him get significant playing time, let alone leading the team in scoring with 17 points. Yet there he was, the second player off the bench, blocking Dwight Howard’s shot, hitting open shots, and providing one of the few bright spots for this Wizards team. Given that he played much better at small forward than Al Thornton, who started at that position, it’s not a stretch to wonder if he earned himself a start against the Hawks on Saturday. At the very least, he may have earned himself more playing time.
JaVale McGee and the alleged FIBA effect
I heard Steve Kerr and Mike Fratello mention that JaVale McGee spent significant time playing with the USA team that played in the FIBA tournament, and that experience had to have rubbed of on his approach to the game, if not his game itself. And while that FIBA effect may certainly reveal itself unto Wizards fans and coaches eventually, that was not the case against the Magic. McGee was consistently late on defensive rotations, he still left his feet prematurely on defense, he was pushed around in the post by Dwight Howard, and he took a series of ill-advised shots. To make things worse, there were at least three occasions (that I saw on TV), when Coach Flip Saunders was scolding him for missing a defensive rotation–something that Wizards fans routinely saw last year as well. The Wizards are already thin in the middle, the last thing they need is a regressing McGee.
Andray Blatche and Yi Jianlian
At one point in the third quarter, Andray Blatche took such a bad shot, that Marv Albert and Steve Kerr, went on a two minute ran about how demoralizing it must be for the other Wizards, when a bad shot is taken. By my informal (yet accurate) calculations, not one of Blatche’s nine shots came in the paint in a post up position. Instead of playing in the post, where Coach Saunders has frequently asked him to play, Blatche was content on launching outside shots, which led to long rebounds, which led to easy Orlando baskets.
On the flip side (pun intended), Yi Jianlian, riding the momentum of his FIBA experience, was seen posting up at least 8-10 times (even when he didn’t get the ball). He still drifted out to the paint occasionally, but he seeme much more comfortable down low. Again, when a team is as thin at big man as the Wizards are, both 7-footers like Blatche and Jianlian should live, eat, sleep and breathe in the post. Yi has the right idea, Blatche needs to get on board.
Sorry Mr. Kornheiser, But The Wizards Need Arenas
There has been talk since May (led by PTI host Tony Kornheiser) that Arenas’ presence on this young Wizards team is not needed and a hindrance. And while Arenas can be as quirky and self-centered as an NFL wide receiver, he is still an effective scorer, who does wonders for John Wall and the transition game. Tonight, with very few exceptions, the Wizards were not able to push the ball and score in transition, and that was mainly because their three guard lineup was not in play to exploit the Magic. Al Thornton and Cartier Martin are both effective small forwards, but they cannot push the ball and lead the fastbreak the way Arenas can as the third guard on the floor, and that was sorely missed tonight. Not to beat a dead horse, but a team with no low post threat cannot win in a halfcourt game against a bonafide center like Dwight Howard. Running is the key for the Wizards, and a healthy Arenas is needed for that to happen.
John Wall’s first game
Up until tonight, Wall had shown flashes of inconsistency, but plenty of promise. In Orlando the roles were switched. There were flashes of coast to coast brilliance (including one fast break where he shook Chris Duhon right out of the picture), but more doses of reality by way of missed open shots, turnovers and hard drives that resulted in no points, assists or trips to the foul line. Wall still ended up with a solid line of 14 points, 9 assists and 3 steals, but he wasn’t able to lead a comeback or control the tempo the way he did so skillfully in preseason. There’s no question he’ll get better with Arenas’ return and with Flip’s coaching. But on this night he struggled.
Again, this is one game, against an NBA title contender. Don’t fret Wizards fans. There’s another one on Saturday.