Tonight the Wizards face a Houston Rockets team that they played fairly close about 10 days ago… Washington fell apart toward the end, per usual. But this game is different, new Wizards coach Randy Wittman, that dancing fool (as it IS ‘Dance Party Friday’ on Bullets Forever), will be facing off against friendly foe Kevin McHale. When the Washington Post’s Michael Lee attempted to pry some answers out of McHale about his old chums, Wittman and Flip Saunders, the Rockets coach said, “No thoughts. I’m pretty much not going to answer anything you’re asking on that. That’s usually a hint. If I don’t answer the first question, I’m not answering the second or third.” Then he offered Lee a dap. Whatever is clever… McHale probably just didn’t want to call the Wizards players dumb (since, after all, McGee did try that off-the-backboard dunk B.S. the last time these two teams faced). In any case, the drill is three questions, three answers, featuring TAI’s Rashad Mobley, Sam Permutt and John Converse Townsend. 3-on-3 starts now…
#1) Houston won just five of their first 12 games when they beat Washington on MLK Day, but overall won seven in a row before that streak was snapped by Milwaukee, in Houston, on Wednesday (the Rockets victory over the Wizards was win No. 2 in the streak). They now stand at 10-8, while the Wizards are 3-15, and normally you’d expect Washington to lose this game, but under a new coach, they might be a bit more hungry to get their first road victory. Which team comes out the aggressor?
MOBLEY: The Wizards. Unless you’re the Oklahoma City Thunder, and you’re trying to avenge a loss, no one is going to get up for the Wizards and come out aggressive, so the Rockets will start slow. The Wizards as a whole will be looking to continue their Randy Wittman-inspired momentum previously found against the lowly Bobcats. But more specifically, JaVale McGee SHOULD be motivated because a) he got dunked on by Chandler Parsons’ franks and beans in the last meeting, and b) he performed this ill-advised dunk.
PERMUTT: A coaching change can create a tryout-like atmosphere on a team. Players suddenly have newfound motivation to play unselfishly, to dive on the floor, to show their new leader (and minute distributor) why they belong on the court. Of course, the players are all familiar with Randy Wittman as an assistant. Nonetheless, expect the Wizards to be eager to please their new head coach in his first official game. Wait… the Bobcats are a real team? That game counted?!? Never mind. But still.
TOWNSEND: It’s hard to imagine this group of Washington Wizards initiating hostilities at home, and even tougher to do so on the road where the team has lost all but three games over the past two seasons (0-7 in 2011-12), so I’ll take the Rockets. Houston should come out hot, looking to defend their court after having their twelve-game home winning streak snapped this week. To make matters even tougher, Rockets players have vowed to shore up defensively after allowing two consecutive 100-point games in the Toyota Center (Houston had held opponents to fewer than 90 points over its first seven home games).
#2) John Wall scored a career-high 38 points against the Rockets on Martin Luther King Day. When Wall has scored 20 or more points, Washington’s average scoring margin is minus-6.4 points (there are five such instances, and 20 points from Wall in an 18 point loss in Atlanta kind of skews the data); in all other games, their scoring margin is minus-10.2 points. So do the Wizards need a 30-plus point scoring game from Wall to win?
MOBLEY: Unless your name is Tiny Archibald or Allen Iverson, it is usually ill-advised for a point guard to score 30 points. If John Wall scores 30 points, and he’s taking Nick Young-like bad shots to arrive at that total, that’s not exactly a good thing. But if Wall is playing within the offense, taking shots that come to him AND he’s getting to the foul line 10-15 times (like he did against the Rockets on MLK Day), there’s a very good chance he’s controlling the tempo, which can only be beneficial for the Wizards.
PERMUTT: Because John Wall’s best offense so far is the transition flash (catch a rebound or outlet and run at the rim), these numbers suggest that high point totals on John’s part partially reflects poor transition defense on the part of the other team. Though Wall does need to finish the close-range opportunities he gets on the break (which he struggled with early in the season), he does not need to score 30-plus for the Wizards to win. He needs to make solid plays; drive and kicks don’t show up as points, but when he’s effectively reading help defense and creating opportunities for his teammates, the Wizards are at their best.
TOWNSEND: I don’t necessarily think the Wizards need John Wall to score 30 or more points to win tonight, but the Game Changer will have to do his best to find holes in the Rockets’ transition defense. The Wizards’ scoring margin with Wall as the primary scorer is more indicative of their futility offensively: it’s always easier to win games when points at the rim come easily, and if Wall isn’t getting to the hoop, he’s probably not scoring.
#3) Who is it more important for the Wizards to contain, Kevin Martin or Kyle Lowry? [UPDATE: Per @MrMichaelLee, Martin is our tonight with plantar fasciitis.]
MOBLEY: Kyle Lowry. If shooters like Kevin Martin get hot, chances are his other teammates are going to be standing around, which makes the usually-balanced Rockets a one-dimensional team — unless he scores 50-plus points, in which case you tip your hat and wear the scarlet L with pride. But when Kyle Lowry is on top of his game, he’s passing, he’s assisting, he’s scoring, and he’s stealing (see his stat line against the T-Wolves on Monday night). Coach Wittman will probably impress upon John Wall and Shelvin Mack that stopping Lowry is the first priority.
PERMUTT: Kyle Lowry. Most of this is simply because of their positions; Lowry is a true point guard, Martin is a true scoring guard. If Lowry is allowed to roam on the court freely, the entire team will operate well, including Kevin Martin. While Martin is an extremely efficient scorer, he’s not a dominant individual player; most of his points come within the flow of the offense. Disrupting Lowry will serve to limit the number of easy buckets that the Rockets’ supporting cast gets. It seems silly to ask if the Wizards can contain the offensively-limited Sammy Dalembert, but it’s a legitimate question (20 points, 9-11 shooting in the last meeting).
TOWNSEND: Kevin Martin will get his; the 6’7″ shooting guard has scored an average of 24.1 points in 11 career games against the Washington — he’s only averaged more points per game against one team, Memphis (25.8). And so the Wizards must contain the rest of the Rockets, beginning with Kyle Lowry, an underappreciated point guard capable of recording a triple-double on any given night.