Before San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich led his team against the Washington Wizards on Saturday night, and as his players were coming off an uncharacteristic loss to the Philadelphia 76ers the night before, I asked him if it was a situation where he’d rather play the very next night.
“Exactly. That’s always one of the great things we all talk about in the NBA, because another game’s coming pretty quickly. Even if it’s back-to-back, you’d rather get to the next game and play and forget the one you just were so horrible in,” the coach said.
After getting poked and prodded like worn leather by the Spurs, the Wizards found them in the same situation, on a flight to Cleveland not only with the motivation of ending a 0-25 road record on the season, but also with the bad taste of poor effort spread on their breakfast toast. The Australians call it vegemite.
Well, they did it. February 13 was long ago marked as a facetious scenario for the Wizards to get their first road win — against Antawn Jamison, in front of a Cleveland crowd previously ingrained to boo the Wiz a little more than other teams, and with a nice number like 25 straight road losses, 26 dating back to last season. With life’s little symmetry in tow, of course Washington won 115-100 on Sunday evening. Ted Leonsis should be dancing, but we’ll get him doing the “Dougie” for another reason.
The Wizards smacked a Cleveland franchise in a much worse situation than Leonsis’ bunch (thanks to the handy chart below). Although, Cleveland is currently third in the NBA in average attendance (20,383) and are ninth in percentage filled (99.1); the Wizards are 18th in average attendance (16,177) and 22nd in percentage filled (80.2) — the advantage in ‘butts in seats’ clearly filled with a lot of buyer’s remorse at their failed investment in LeBron James. Hope for Cleveland now fully lies in NBA draft lottery combinations, and not at all in the product that can be found on the court this year.
[click for larger image]
Leonsis, on the other hand, has John Wall to build around. The rookie paced his team with 14 assists, two turnovers and 19 points on 8-19 shooting in 36 minutes. According to the Basketball-Reference database, since 1986-87 a player 20 years or younger has now achieved 14 or more assists in a game 17 times. Wall is the owner of five such occurrences. Stephon Marbury has five as well, LeBron has three, Chris Paul has three and Gilbert Arenas has one.
At the 6:37 mark of the first quarter, the Wizards jumped out to a 21-8 lead thanks to seven assists from Wall. They never really looked back after that. Well, maybe a little. Cleveland went on a 9-0 run to end the third quarter to cut Washington’s lead to 16 and then to 11 with 7:20 left in the game, but that’s where the Wizards’ veteran picked up the slack.
Kirk Hinrich hit a big three at the 6:56 mark of the fourth, allowing the Cavaliers to get no closer. Hinrich finished with 17 points, five assists and zero turnovers in 28 minutes off the bench. In February, Hinrich has looked to score more, and more effectively, averaging 12.2 points on an effective-FG-percentage of 54.8. This is coming off a January in which Hinrich missed five of 16 games due to injury and averaged 10.1 points on an eFG-percentage of 48.4.
In Hinrich’s place against Cleveland started Josh Howard, who was making his first uniformed appearance in 19 games. Howard began the game as a facilitator/communicator on defense, most importantly helping the action and not forcing it. He didn’t score his first points until 2:24 was left in the second quarter; the Wizards held a comfortable 20 point lead and Howard’s three pushed that to 63-40. Howard came up with key help on offense in the second half, scoring 13 of his 16 points for the game. He had been 3-14 from deep on the season, against Cleveland he drained 3-6 of his threes.
The output of Andray Blatche should be noted as a difference maker in the total effort, he had 17 points on 8-11 shooting with nine rebounds, five assists and three turnovers in 25 minutes limited to foul trouble. He started the game with a dunk and a yell, courtesy of a great pass by Wall, and although he made some mistakes, he did do things such as chasing down an offensive rebound kept alive by Yi Jianlian with just under four minutes in the game while the Cavs pressing for points and time. Yi ultimately completed the second chance with a 19-foot jumper that put Washington up 111-95.
But the offensive assassin on the night was Nick Young. After the loss to the Spurs on Saturday, I asked him if he was preparing some words for his old teammate Antawn Jamison on Sunday.
“Oh yea,” he said with a wry smile. “But after a game like this, you gotta go out there strictly business,” Young finished. And business for him was nice and efficient against the Cavaliers, to the tune of 31 points on 21 shots. He went 3-4 on shots at the rim, 1-1 on shots within 10 feet, 3-4 on shots between 10-15 feet, 6-11 on shots between 16-23 feet and 1-1 on three pointers.
Here’s where people might say, ‘Well, the 16-23 foot range shot is the most inefficient shot in the NBA.’ And here’s where I’ll point out: the stats might be inefficient. Young’s makes within that 16-23 foot range came from 16, 17 (twice), 18 (twice) and 19 feet; his misses came from 16, 18, 20 (twice) and 22 feet. Four of the makes came from around the free-throw line area, perfectly within Young’s range when he gets those shots within the offense — by the way, nine of Young’s 14 field-goals versus Cleveland were assisted by a teammate. So, when you look at 16-23 feet shot range stats to determine Young’s worth, keep in mind that the data set can be highly imperfect.
“I feel like Christmas. We wanted to get a win, now we hope we can get some more,” John Wall said after the game.
Hopefully the young Wizards won’t get too carried away and will forget this first road win as soon as they forgot the embarrassing loss to the Spurs on Saturday. Although Cleveland snapped their 26-game losing streak against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, there’s still little hope to be found with that franchise, especially when James Edward Hickson is really the only promising piece. A road win is nice, but the Wizards should be less proud of beating such a morbid team than the Cavaliers should be embarrassed about being the team against whom the Wizards ended their road streak. Know what I mean?
About that “Dougie” from Ted Leonsis…
On November 4, 2010, he blogged:
When we have a total paid sellout this season, I will do the “Dougie” – I promise.
Later that day, Leonsis followed up:
And the Heat, Lakers and Celtics games don’t count. Deal?
Now, beating the Cavaliers to end a 25-game road losing streak has no bearing on whether Leonsis does a dance that’s late in minute 14 of its famous run. Rather, the mechanical defeat at the hands of the Spurs on Saturday night does. Let’s take a look at the box score from that game, shall we?
Now “(Sellout)” under the attendance listing of 20,435 may not mean the same thing as “total paid sellout”, but if you’re going to put the words on the box score, you might as put your dancing shoes on. And now, thankfully, perhaps Leonsis’ Dougie can be done in celebration of a good win instead of as a result of the most demoralizing loss of the season.