In the last couple of weeks, the Wizards have faced teams that are almost assured to be playoff-bound. The Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, and Denver Nuggets would all be in the playoffs if the season ended today, and barring injury, a big mental breakdown, or the loss of Carmelo Anthony via trade, all three teams figure to be playing after the season ends in April.
When the Wizards took on the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, they were facing a team that currently finds itself just outside of the playoff picture (a game and a half behind Indiana for the eight seed in the East going into last night’s game). Injuries to Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, Drew Gooden, John Salmons and Michael Redd (who has yet to play a game this season), left Coach Scott Skiles with limited options, the team has struggled as a result. Former Wizard Earl Boykins and Corey Maggette have done their best to carry the team, but even their yeoman efforts haven’t saved the Bucks from inconsistent play, and a disappointing 20-31 record.
Tuesday night against the Raptors, the Bucks had a healthy Brandon Jennings (who returned from a broken foot a little over a week ago), a semi-healthy Andrew Bogut (he’s battling a bone bruise in his knee), and a healthier, attacking John Salmons (he’s recovering from a sore hip) in the starting lineup. The Bucks played with urgency on offense and stifled the Raptors on defense, holding them to 74 points (36-percent from the field), and they were victorious, 92-74.
Before last night’s game, Scott Skiles explained discussed why his team must continue to play with type of urgency.
Unfortunately for Skiles and the Bucks, there was no urgency shown against a Wizards team that had dropped eight consecutive games heading into last night, and were playing with only 10 dressed due to injuries to Al Thornton, Josh Howard, Yi Jianlian and Hamady N’diaye, who was recently recalled from the D-League. The score said 100-85 in the Wizards’ favor, but it never felt that close after the first period.
In that first quarter, the Bucks had an effective game plan of primarily running their offense through Bogut and Salmons. Bogut abused JaVale McGee in the post with hook shots, dunks and short jumpers, and he had eight points in the first 7:20 of the game. Salmons had his initial shot blocked by Nick Young, but he picked up the pace towards the end of the quarter (once Bogut went to the bench) and scored seven points of his own. Milwaukee trailed 22-19 after one.
At the start of the second quarter, Milwaukee’s Jon Brockman took a nice pass from Keyon Dooling and scored, got fouled in the process, and hit the free-throw to tie the game at 22-22. It appeared as if the Bucks were right in the game. Then the Wizards went on a 20-10 run, led by Nick Young’s eight points in the span, and took a 42-32 lead. The Wizards’ last bucket in the run was punctuated by a nasty Young dunk over both Ersan Ilyasova and Bogut. That dunk seemed to suck the energy out of the Bucks, as they never got within 10 points the remainder of the game. After strong starts, Bogut and Salmons were only a combined 1-of-4 for three points in the second quarter, and the Bucks scored just 19 points overall. Coach Skiles would say after the game:
“Bogut got off to a good start but we didn’t get a whole lot out of that match-up. We wanted to go down to the basket a little more and we didn’t take advantage of it. We fell behind so quickly.”
Brandon Jennings did his best to keep the Bucks in the game in the third quarter by breaking down John Wall, and getting into the lane for easy baskets and assists. But the Bucks still lacked energy on the defensive end of the floor, and they allowed Young (13 points in the period) and Andray Blatche (8 points in the thrid) to have their way. Skiles, who usually stalks up and down the sideline, yelling and screaming at his players and the refs, just quietly sat on the bench as the Wizards pulled away. It was as if he knew the Washington’s deficit was just too much to overcome. Jennings said after the game:
“We would get it to 12 [points] or even 11 and they would come down and hit a shot or something, a three. We would tilt our heads back and be like, ‘man.’ I think we learned our lesson tonight. We can’t come out sluggish in the beginning. We have to come out a lot of intensity and energy.”
The Bucks actually outscored the Wizards 25-23 in the fourth quarter, but by then both teams were in full-fledged garbage time, despite Jennings’ heroics. Earl Boykins, who has been known as Mr. Instant Offense throughout his NBA career, got into the game with just a minute left, and immediately scored. When I asked him after the game why he didn’t get in sooner, he simply, and diplomatically responded, “You have to ask coach, I don’t know.”
After the game, a frustrated Skiles did not address the issue of Boykins (I should have asked, but didn’t), but he did admit that the Wizards (yes, the 14-37 Wizards) were more ready, more energized and just flat-out better than his Bucks team:
The postgame locker room scene seemed to be just as depressing as Skiles’ press conference. Salmons addressed a small contingent of reporters, while keeping his head down towards the floor. Dooling was getting dressed while looking at the final box score, and as I walked by him he said to no one in particular, “Man we didn’t do jack sh*t tonight!” Corey Maggette and Bogut answered all of the questions the media had to offer, but the general feeling was that as an aspiring playoff team, this was a game they had to have, and it got away from them.
Corey Maggette on his team’s effort:
“These are the games we’re supposed to have. These are the games where we need to come out with a lot of fire and start off and dominate these teams early on, and not give them any momentum. And early on, the game was kind of going back and forth with shots, and then they just kind of got on a roll and we could never really capitalize from there, and we got in a situation where we were down. And then Nick [Young] just continued to make shot after shot.”
Brandon Jennings on the lack of aggressiveness:
“We gotta come out with a lot of intensity in the beginning. We kind of eased our way in, and it just doesn’t work like that, we’re not that good to be easing our way in. I think I should have been pushing it earlier in the beginning, whether it was just pushing it to make something happen or getting to the basket to put pressure on the [Wizards] bigs.”
Andrew Bogut on his quiet showing after the first quarter:
“That’s part of the game. Sometimes I was open, sometimes I wasn’t. That’s just part of the NBA game. We turned the ball over early, they had a lot of rebounds. We just didn’t play good tonight. We’ve got to move on.”
TAI’s Kyle Weidie asked Wizards coach Flip Saunders what he thought of Milwaukee’s struggles from his perspective:
“They’ve dealt with injuries. It’s easy to say that when you have people injured and you get them back, well now you’re going to be back to where you were. What happens is when you have somebody hurt, then you have to adjust on how you’re going to play, and people have different roles. So every time somebody comes back, now the roles all change. What happens is you don’t get that cohesiveness, it’s like an engine that’s not running on all cylinders. I think that’s kind of where they’re at, not running on all cylinders.
Jennings is trying to get back and get his legs under him. You got [Carlos] Delfino who’s out with a concussion for dang near six weeks to two months. Maggette earlier in the year… And Bogut is doing so many things, he’s great defensively, protecting the paint. He can rebound it well, but offensively, he’s not what he was prior to his injury. He’s not going to be there until probably next year because he couldn’t do anything all summer, and even in training camp he had that contraption on his arm. So he’s not quite there.
Remember, last year, for the last two months of the season, Bogut was about as good as any center in our league. And that’s why they made that big run. So I’m sure they hope they can get him back playing, keep on improving, and try to make a run late because the way our Eastern Conference is, if you win three games in a row no matter where you’re at, you’re all of a sudden within two or three games of a playoff position.”