It seems that the Wizards lost a tough 127-119 double-overtime game to the Los Angeles Clippers last night. Unfortunately, I was unable to watch live, and unfortunately, the DVR was not set to record that much extra basketball. Still, that won’t preclude me from studying the portions of the game I was able to record tonight.
“They’re hurt in there,” Flip Saunders told the media after the game. It can’t hurt for too long, however, because not one of the remaining 12 games on the season will be easy. And the 17-51 Wizards need three more wins so as not to tie franchise records for losing futility in an 82-game slate. Getting to 20 wins is, however, unlikely.
It’s conceivable that Washington’s 98-92 win over the New Jersey Nets at home last Sunday will be their last of the season. Sure, they’ll have good chances to score Verizon Center wins over Cleveland (April 1) and Detroit (April 5), or even their second road win in the last game of the season versus the Cavaliers (April 13), but why not throw a bit of pessimism in the bag with optimism and realism?
Because as much positivity that was pumped after that good win over the Nets — as it should be — there were also some glaring issues, ones that have been seen many times before, which really must come to a halt before the team can proceed with winning in the future. The same issues likely kept the Wizards from winning against the Clippers, even though they hung tough til the end. So let’s start with JaVale McGee versus the Nets…
McGee can do a lot of great things (like crazy blocks), as long as he hustles and focuses, this we know. But those great things aren’t exactly helping the Wizards win games now. It’s McGee’s losing basketball that hurts … when he gets tired, stops hustling, loses focus and seems to just not care.
Is it his job to care all the time? Probably. But it’s also Flip Saunders’ job to monitor and adjust accordingly, factoring in McGee’s issues with asthma, which cause him to get tired and not care. The coach must achieve a sensitive balance between confidence and reality. Let’s take a look at a stretch from the first quarter of Sunday’s game versus New Jersey that serves as a prime example of losing basketball.
“You gotta have the discipline to pull that ball back and get it to a guard. I’ve said this before, [McGee is] capable of doing that, but it’s not necessary for him to do that,” said Wizards television analyst Phil Chenier after the play. ‘Capable but not necessary’ describes the JaVale McGee experience perfectly.
New Jersey eventually took a 35-23 lead after one period. As soon as McGee can get these instances under control — which have been rampant all season — he will be a much improved player. There is still a fair amount hope for McGee, but each of his crazy, ill-advised dribbling exhibitions tops the previous in stupidity to the point where one must wonder how much he pays attention outside of his own realm. A true shoulder shrugger.
A Wizards Insider “Jump Ball” entry on the Washington Post website pertaining to McGee, and in specific reference to his block versus the Blazers, asks commenters, “Did that play change how you feel about McGee’s season?” The answer is easily no … check in the next time you can’t remember the last time McGee pulled one of his dribbling stupid pet tricks.
Another example of game slippage — and maybe this is a minor blip, but it’s an example nonetheless — came on the very first play out of halftime. The Wizards simply were not ready. As some laggardly stepped on the court to play another 24 minutes, ignoring the various buzzers and whistles set up to prepare them, Jordan Crawford was caught tying his shorts while the Nets in-bounded the ball from the other end of the court. Jordan Farmar made a long pass to find Crawford’s wide open man, Anthony Morrow, for three, getting Farmar his career-high 12th assist (he would finish the game with 17). Let’s watch.
Good teams have certainly made similar gaffes, but still … this play holds more of a place in a losing culture than it does in a winning culture. Maybe the losing has made such instances more apathetic. Maybe if the game was important enough this wouldn’t have happened.
But not all was lost. After fighting their way back into the game, the young Wizards surfaced some positivity during the third quarter (when they ultimately out-scored New Jersey 28 to 12 to take a 71-68 lead heading into the fourth). After John Wall made a great play to find Trevor Booker for a dunk, Washington played a relentless possession on defense. Giving up offensive rebounds happens, but watch how the Wiz Kids scramble and hustle to keep New Jersey from taking advantage. And of course, watch how McGee gladly finds hustle to run downhill on offense and finish the play as he should.
Of course, what’s a matchup between two bad teams without one team (or both) trying to give it away?
Let’s start, clearly, with another stupid McGee dribble. Well, this one was not as stupid. For some reason a teammate, John Wall, who was busy jumping to pass, decided to give the ball to McGee with six seconds on the shot clock (reiterate blame on Wall in this situation). Still, JaVale proceeded to get lost in his own athleticism and made a crazy move, almost scoring before the shot clock buzzer went off. If he wasn’t so conditioned to putting on horse-blinders and ignoring teammates, if his basketball instinct wasn’t so blasphemous to the sport’s religion, he would have calmly found Crawford begging for the open shot. Instead, losing basketball again (and late in the game).
Then there was this subsequent play where all of the Wizards can be pegged for bad team defense. The Nets run a simple back screen set by the shooting guard (guarded by Crawford) for Kris Humphries (guarded by Yi Jianlian). These two Wizards defenders didn’t handle the situation in the best manner, but also keep an eye on Wall and McGee. Both were clueless to what went down, Wall with his hands at his side, not pressuring the ball or at least getting his hands in the passing lane, and McGee was pressed up on Lopez like he wanted to date him, ignorant to help-side defensive responsibilities.
But guess what? … the Wizards sealed the game on defense. Sure, Wall taking over and getting hot on jumpers helped, but the whole team stepped up to defend New Jersey on a very key late possession, especially Yi Jianlian. Yi often gets caught in acts of cluelessness, but he’s clearly out there trying in a coached manner. Also give credit to McGee for initially pressuring the in-bounds pass. Let’s take a look.
A feel-good victory? The locker room is always happier (plus, Yi got revenge on his old team).
Home team fans leaving the arena without witnessing another loss? They’ll always take it.
A learning experience that helps to instill lessons via a winning result? That’s the hope.