Chalk Up Moral Victory No. 3 In 115-108 Loss To Lakers; Should The Wizards Be Ready To Stand Behind Their Message Of Toughness?
If you tucked yourself into bed early last night, snug as a bug on a cold December evening, nice job of letting something as silly as sleep usurp your Wizards fandom, because you missed a helluva game.
With people already checking mock drafts and college prospects for roster potentials, it’s worth notching Washington’s 115-108 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers as moral victory No. 3 on the season, after Orlando at home and Miami on the road, and last night’s game certainly holds to the top spot as the Wizards’ most entertaining game of the season, win or loss.
There were so many highlight plays by both teams that several will surely fall between the cracks (and did in the highlight video above). From a Wizards’ perspective, he’s a quick overview:
Trevor Booker is a man, and not just in physique. The four-year college player from Clemson showed veteran confidence against the Lakers on his way to 14 points, four rebounds and two steals in 21 minutes off the bench. But should he start in front of Andray Blatche? (BTW, Blatche sat out the Lakers game with a left hip bruise last night. Speaking of, why are so many Wizards sitting out with bruises lately — or “contusions” as they are called? First it was Nick Young sitting out against the Blazers and now Dray — and I’m not here to say those contusions don’t hurt and make it hard to move, but sitting out with a bruise would seemingly indicate inherent softness … just saying.) Anyway, Mike Prada on Bullets Forever writes:
“I would be careful to overreact to this game and call for sweeping changes to the starting lineup. While Booker played great, this was also a fast-paced game with a lot of instinct rather than thinking, and he excels in that kind of setting. That said, maybe it’s time to make some changes in the rotation. Less Andray Blatche, much less Yi Jianlian and more Young at small forward. I’m not talking something as drastic as a lineup change necessarily, but if Booker T and the Frenchman don’t earn more PT going forward, then you’re essentially saying playing the Lakers this close is meaningless.”
While I agree with Mr. Prada’s well-balance assessment for the most part, here’s where I would be inclined to disagree … at least in terms of replacing Blatche with Booker in the starting lineup. Sure, it’s just one game for Booker and one could certainly say that Blatche’s knowledge of defensive rotations is better for the simple fact that he’s been in the league longer (of course, Blatche could have been fooled by Kobe’s spin move just as Booker was around the 0:35 mark in the above highlight video). However, here’s what we also know:
- A summer contract extension for Blatche hasn’t provided many noticeable results.
- Andray has shown improvement since early in the season in terms of playing down low on offense and getting to the basket like Flip Saunders has wanted him to — But, why was Blatche and Saunders not on the same page in terms of him playing more in the paint in the first place? That ordeal seemed wholly unnecessary.
- Blatche showed up more out of shape than he should have been resulting from a broken foot suffered in late June.
- Does Blatche deserve to start? The days of the Wizards being complacent in starting veterans just because they are veterans are over, right? And yes, I realize balancing this concept with knee-jerk reactions is precarious.
- But how else would one get the point across to Andray and his slow-to-develop process? No more excuses, this is his sixth year in the league.
- This is the most important part of what we know: the message from Ernie Grunfeld since the summer, after several references about his past constructed team getting “stale,” was that the Wizards were aiming to become a tougher team inside — which was the reason why Grunfeld drafted Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin in the first place.
- The fact that Andray Blatche is not exactly “tough” is inarguable.
- So, unless Grunfeld (and to a certain extent Ted Leonsis) were simply paying lip-service to becoming tougher, with almost a fourth of this season now over, perhaps it’s time that the franchise started backing up their words with action … at least in terms of the toughness category.
- In fact, today Leonsis writes on his blog, Ted’s Take, in a post entitled ‘Identity': “Be hard to play against; have upside; be tough; be fast; and have fun.”
- Blatche is often going to waste possessions with jumpers that you’d honestly rather Wall or Arenas taking … although sure, Blatche can actually spread the floor for the guards because he’s a big. But screw the spreading of the floor. Booker can be the inside presence the Wizards need, and playing him sends the message that the franchise is serious about getting tougher.
- I’m not saying the team should write-off Blatche or that he should never start again, but there should be little interest in preserving the sanctity of someone starting, or the perhaps fragile state of mind I imagine Blatche would be in if he was removed from the starting lineup — no time to be concerned with the selfishness of hurt feelings, folks, time to grow up and do what’s best for the team.
- It’s something to keep an eye on, especially if Blatche continues with his inconsistent status quo on defense. Otherwise, all that talk about getting tougher is meaningless.
John Wall played a much more controlled game against the Lakers, thankfully zone defense is easier for him to implement against the Triangle offense than chasing Steve Nash around all night. Wall had a solid 22 points on 7-14 field goals, confidently made a couple threes, and mechanically unsoundly bricked a couple threes. He delivered 14 assists to just three turnovers, pulled down five rebounds and had three amazingly athletic blocked shots (against both Kobe and Gasol, with the best coming against Derek Fisher).
Wall even hounded Kobe into taking and missing a long three at the shot clock buzzer with 2:37 left in the game and the Wizards down 108-103. Unfortunately, Kobe’s shot barely grazed the rim, the Lakers got a long rebound and Kobe ended up finishing a lay-up. Those are the types of things that happen to these Wizards though. Wall also didn’t like the fact that Saunders called a timeout when he was ready to zip down the court off a Lakers miss with 20 seconds left and the Wizards down 112-108; and Flip probably didn’t like the fact that Wall jacked and missed a three right after that timeout. What can you do?
Nick Young scored 30 points on 10-18 shooting and 6-11 from deep. Nothing much to say other than he was feeling it, unconscious style. Nick was also a connoisseur of the spin move (and victim, see: Bryant, Kobe at the 1:45 mark in the top highlight video) — tragically, Nick’s own 360 spin move didn’t make the above highlights. You can find it here, but more on it also to come.
It seems that on the interwebs, all Lakers fans could talk about was how Young never passes the ball. Pretty much yep. Young did notch one assist on the night, but definitely not with 1:50 left when the Wizards were down 110-103, as Young jacked a three on the break while Kevin Seraphin pretty much stood under the basket by himself. Both Lakers back on D, Kobe and Odom, completely ignored Seraphin knowing Young would shoot. Nonetheless, Young has excellent offensive talent, is working harder on defense, and it’s good to see him finally coming into his own (we hope). But I still can’t help but have the feeling that Young’s NBA relevancy will always teeter in very fragile territory. I don’t think the Wizards can depend on his unconscious shooting every night, but as I’ve said before, Young seems to be the most trustworthy on spot-up threes, and this team really needs that.
Gilbert Arenas played okay … 23 points on 8-17 shooting, but 2-8 from three. Can’t say the seven turnovers to four assists are admirable, but that will happen sometimes. Arenas just needs to significantly limit his carelessness, if that’s possible. Also, watching he and Wall work together can provide curious observations. Early in the game, Arenas, instead of pulling up on the break when he was wide-open at the top of the key as the defense collapsed to the basket, passed it to Wall on the left wing, and he knocked down the jumper. Arenas is seemingly more than willing to get the rookie into the mix at times, but at other times, it seems like Arenas forgets and tries to dribble himself out of pressure defensive situations instead of remembering Wall is on the court too — such happened early in the third quarter when Arenas was in traffic and Wall was on the wing futilely holding up his arms. And I’ve seen Wall do similar things with the ball in his hands. Oddness in terms of those two players intent on being the play-maker happened a couple times in the Phoenix game too. Nothing to be concerned about, I just think they need to get used to playing with each other, and they need to better understand how to use the skills of each other to best benefit the team. It’s a process that takes time.
- Al Thornton is fading into the background again. Not exactly a good time to do that when Josh Howard is set to return soon … guess that makes Flip Saunders’ job easier.
- Yi Jianlian should be given more chances, but his hands are absolutely terrible … or maybe he just had an especially bad night against the Lakers. It can certainly be appreciated that Yi can knock down a wet jumper and move his feet better than some of the Wizards’ other bigs on defense. But he needs to stop being a delicate flower; he needs to stop swatting at rebounds like a little kid trying to get something that an adult is holding higher than their reach; he needs to get hands stronger than dumplings.
- Kevin Seraphin is still pretty lost, but he makes his presence felt, isn’t afraid to mix it up and is showing visible improvement in limiting mistakes.
- JaVale McGee did some nice things, had a pretty dunk and got into some foul trouble. I also noticed how McGee came in for Seraphin with 10:40 left in the fourth, threw off the chemistry on both ends of the floor and committed two turnovers, and then was subbed back out for Seraphin at the 9:10 mark. McGee sat on the bench for the rest of the game with just four fouls. Also, McGee needs to learn how to go for blocked shots without completely putting himself out of defensive position if unsuccessful.
- Overall, give Flip Saunders a lot of credit for going with who was playing well last night, and I suppose that’s how it should be for the rest of the year. Players should be pushed to avoid complacency with no one’s playing time being secure. Also, I didn’t mind Flip using the match-up zone a lot against the Lakers as some others did. I might have to go back and truly evaluate, but I thought it wasn’t necessarily more or less effective than the Wizards’ usual porous defense. And with rebounding, you can’t totally blame the Wizards’ woes on the zone in that department. Sure, it’s more difficult to rebound from an area, but sometimes individual players have to man up. And McGee is probably much better at rebounding errant shots from an area than he is at staying disciplined enough to block someone out one-on-one.
Finally, give your thoughts on toughness and the Blatche situation via the poll below. Thanks!