When the name Denny Green is mentioned, the first image that comes to mind is the one you see above, and with good reason. He’s flustered, he’s angry, he’s mumbling, and after 40 seconds or so, he stomps away from the podium. But five years before that outburst, Green had every reason to be just as angry when he was fired by the Minnesota Vikings, despite leading them to the brink of the Super Bowl just three years earlier. However, at his I-just-got-fired press conference, Green displayed nothing but class (with a splash of third person):
“If you’re looking for Denny Green, look on the high road, because that is where I’ll be.”
The same concept applies when examining the Washington Wizards 24th straight road loss to the Dallas Mavericks last night. It is easy, and dare I say lazy, to focus on the list of errors that led to their 102-92 defeat. Everyone saw their 61.3-percent free throw percentage (Dallas shot 67.6-percent), the poor shooting nights for Andray Blatche and Nick Young (a combined 10-37), and the lack of a consistent go-to guy in the fourth quarter. Those shortcomings, and others very similar to them, have been present throughout this road losing streak.
That being said, there were plenty of positives to take away from last night’s loss, and if they are bottled up and carried into tonight’s game in New Orleans against the Hornets, perhaps the Wizards can get a win before they get loss number 25. So join me on the high road as we examine a few positives a bit closer.
Michael Lee of the Washington Post said it best early in the second quarter, via his twitter account:
“John Wall is rolling right now. He’s got 10 pts & 4 assts. Hasn’t looked this energized & electric in weeks.”
It was not simply that Wall put up 17 points, four rebounds and 10 assists to two turnovers on the night, it was the way he did it. Wall looked to be a bit more comfortable with his outside shot, he sped up and down the court at a much more controlled pace (with a few exceptions), and successfully found the open man when he needed to. This was especially on display at the start of the second quarter, when the Wizards held their largest lead of 12 points. Wall started off driving to the basket, drawing a hard foul on former Wizard Brendan Haywood and hitting two free throws. The next time down the court he led the fast break, dribbled to the middle of the floor, and hit Al Thornton with a perfect bounce pass in stride for the basket and the foul. After the Wizards and Mavericks traded missed shots, Wall led yet another fast break and found Rashard Lewis for yet another basket and the foul, and just like that the Wizards were up nine — and Dallas was forced to call a timeout.
After a sluggish December and an inconsistent start of January, Wall seems to finally be healthy, which means he’s able to get where he wants on the court again. Now if only Flip Saunders would run some plays for him towards the end of games … sorry, high road comments only.
With 6:51 left in the fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki scored a basket and was fouled, but Saunders disagreed with the call and decided to share his displeasure with the referees. He was promptly given a technical foul and Dirk converted. Saunders was pretty vocal with the refs all night, and he’s lucky he did not get thrown out of the game, but still it was nice to see him show some sustained emotion.
It is no secret that coaches all over this league (former Cavs coach Mike Brown, current Buck coach Scott Skiles and former coach Larry Brown, to name a few) use the I-will-get-myself-thrown-out-of -the-game method to motivate their players when they seem to lack motivation. Some of the Wizards writers/bloggers have suggested that Saunders needs to do the same, especially with their futile road record, and he took one step towards that by getting a technical foul last night. After the tech, TAI’s Kyle Weidie was not convinced:
“Flip got a technical? Not sure it’s the type to fire up his players nor does he have players who will necessarily get fired up.”
I agree with Mr. Weidie that one technical will not fire his up team sufficiently. But if Flip gets two technicals in succession, allows himself to be restrained by Sam Cassell and Josh Howard in street clothes, someone on that Wizards roster will get fired up. Last night, Saunders took the first step, and perhaps tonight in New Orleans — the second of a back-to-back and fourth game in five nights — would be the time to unveil that move.
On a night when Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee had nothing, and when Blatche struggled to find his shooting touch, Yi Jianlian came up big with season-highs in points (14) and steals (4) to go along with 11 rebounds in just 29 minutes of play. In recent games, Yi seemed to be comfortable with taking jumpers from the elbow, with no regard for the flow of the offense. Against Dallas, Yi still took a few of those, but he also mixed in some aggressive post moves (against Brendan Haywood no less), and some follow up dunks.
Like Wall, Yi has struggled with injuries as of late, but if last night is any indication, he’s ready to be a more consistent contributor off the bench. (Kyle has a further video breakdown of Yi’s game.)
So if we are sticking with this high road theme, we will forget about the Wizards loss to the Mavericks last night, and look forward to the Hornets game tonight. Washington will get a major contribution from Yi, Flip will get thrown out in the second quarter, and Wall will take over from there to get the Wizards their first road win of the year. If not, they will be who we thought they were … 0-25 on the road.