I didn’t catch Friday night’s Wizards-Nuggets game live, but I did DVR it, so I was able to watch the game at my own pace the next afternoon. While I was watching, my wife happened to walk in, and without even looking at the television she asked me, “So how much are they getting killed by this time?”. I sheepishly answered that they were being “killed” by 24 points, and she just shook her head and left.
That pretty much sums up how it feels to watch and then write about the Wizards these days. There are instances like this past Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers when the Wizards’ young players seem to put it all together and play competitively, and then there are other nights when flashes of individual brilliance are overtaken by yet another defeat.
Friday night’s 114-94 loss to the Nuggets was no different. The Wizards dug themselves in a hole with some cold first quarter shooting, they fought hard to close the gap, but in the end, the Nuggets were too experienced and deep for the Wizards. But if you’re looking for positives, rookie forward Trevor Booker put on a clinic on both ends of the floor during the third quarter. He demonstrated that, even when some veterans get healthy and back on the floor, he needs to still play substantial minutes.
11:34 – 3rd Quarter
Flip Saunders called an isolation play for Booker in the post against the 6’9″ Kenyon Martin. Martin is known for his physical play on both ends of the floor, and this looked to be a challenging post-up for Booker. He faced up like a player of his ability should when attacking the basket, started right, then quickly spun back and executed a perfect jump hook over the outstretched arms of Martin to cut the Nuggets’ lead to 17 points. This prompted Wizards announcer Phil Chenier to say that Booker needs to get more touches down low.
The Nuggets then turned the ball over, and after receiving a touch pass from Jordan Crawford, John Wall led the Wizards on a 3-on-3 fast break. Yi was in the middle of the floor, and Booker ran up the left side of the floor, seemingly looking for an alley-oop. Wall decided to take the open shot, which rimmed out to the left side, where Booker correctly positioned himself. In one motion, Booker jumped up in front of Nuggets guard Gary Forbes and tipped the ball in with his left hand, which is his strong hand. It is also worth noting that when the Wizards fast break off of a missed basket, Booker is often even with or ahead of John Wall. One can’t help but think back to Booker’s introductory press conference, when he spoke with great pride about his speed. He definitely relishes putting it to good use.
Booker got caught in a one-on-one defensive matchup versus the lightning fast Ty Lawson. Lawson took one quick dribble to the right side of the floor, and Booker used his speed to beat Lawson to the spot. Lawson attempted to change direction, but lost the ball out of bounds. This may not seem like a significant play, but when you consider Lawson’s game (much like John Wall’s) is based his ability to blow by other guards, let alone forwards, Booker’s defense here was impressive — it didn’t hurt that JaVale McGee was right behind him to clean up if necessary.
Booker set a pick on Lawson and then received an immediate pass from Wall as he rolled to the basket. Instead of hesitating or wasting his dribble with lateral movement, Booker went straight to the rim and found McGee for the dunk, but unfortunately he banged his knee in the process. He limped noticeably up the court, but gave Flip Saunders the thumbs up sign so he could stay in the game. So if you’re scoring at home, that’s a drive, an assist and toughness displayed in a 30 second span. Already short on man-power, Flip ended up taking Booker out of the game a few moments later.
Booker again found himself isolated defensively on one side of the court, but this time it was against Nuggets forward Al Harrington. Unlike in the previous isolation, when McGee was clearly lurking behind Booker, McGee was too far over to have an impact on the play. Harrington drove to the basket, got one step beyond Booker and tried to score, but Booker timed his jump perfectly and pinned the shot against the backboard. The ball eventually went out of bounds off of Harrington. His speed and quickness did not come through for him as Harrington went right by him, but Booker did not quit on the play and his timely jumping ability saved him.
On the very next possession after Booker’s block, the Wizards called another play for Booker in the post — given he scored with ease on this play earlier in the quarter, I found it odd that they waited 10 minutes to run it again. This time Booker was matched up against the 6’10″ Harrington. Booker took a few dribbles to establish deeper post position, and then launched yet another left-handed jumphook that went right through the net.
The Wizards called yet another post play for Booker, but this time he caught the ball closer to the three-point line. He took a few dribbles, fought through the physical defense from Harrington, and got in position for yet another jump hook. This time Chris “Birdman” Andersen was watching intently and came over for the help block attempt. But Booker shot the lefty hook higher than the Birdman’s reach and the ball gently rolled in.
Off a Nuggets turnover, John Wall was zooming down the court on the fast break. To his far left was a streaking Jordan Crawford, and to his far right, lagging a bit behind, was Nick Young. Booker was just inside of Young, but it seemed like that was the type of play where Wall would try to find one of his shooters. Instead, he flipped the ball back to Booker, who attached and drew the foul. I don’t know whether Wall made that pass because of the relatively low degree of difficulty, or if he was simply trying to reward Booker for his hard play during the quarter, but it was significant.
Booker had nine points, a block, a rebound and an assist in the third quarter alone, and finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 40 minutes overall. He was unable to prevent the Wizards from losing, but in fairness, he was underutilized despite having a clear advantage over the Nuggets’ post players. Unfortunately for Booker, he had to leave the game in the fourth quarter with a foot injury. His status for tonight’s game against the Golden State Warriors is uncertain. Still, during the third quarter of the Nuggets game, Booker demonstrated yet again that he is a key player in the Wizards’ rotation, not just a temporary injury fill-in.
[The author of this post: Rashad Mobley is from the Washington, D.C. area and has been covering the Washington Wizards with credentials for three years. To learn more about him click here. To follow him on Twitter: @Rashad20.]