The Washington Wizards start the second half of their season to nowhere with the ol’ road-home back-to-back. Tonight they’re in Milwaukee, where they lost their third game in as many at the beginning of the season to the Bucks 102-81 (where Roger Mason Jr. also played without being eligible), and tomorrow night they return to D.C. to take on Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. Want to check out some key Wizards mid-season stats? Click here. Otherwise, tonight’s 3-on-3 features Kevin Chouinard (@AnaheimAmigos) of Behind The Buck Pass, along with TAI’s Adam McGinnis (@adammcginnis) and Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It). Three questions, three answers starts now…
#1) Bucks PF Ersan Ilyasova is averaging 19.2 points and 10.2 rebounds over his last five games, highlighted by 29 points and 25 rebounds in a recent win over the New Jersey Nets. Washington starting PF Trevor Booker has emerged as a key performer for the Wizards and is averaging 10.6 points, 6.9 rebounds over his last 14 games. Which player will come out on top in their match up?
KEVIN CHOUINARD: Amazingly, both Ilyasova and Booker are 24 years old, even though Ersan debuted in the NBA back in 2006. Among qualified players, Ilyasova has the sixth-best rebounding percentage. He’s relentless at tipping the ball until he gets it. Ersan is also the Bucks’ best and savviest interior defender with Andrew Bogut out. On the other hand, Booker has a chance to develop in the ways that Ersan hasn’t. Booker is assertive in traffic; Ilyasova pump-fakes himself out of rhythm. He can’t catch the ball on the move, and he has zero post game. It’s all tip-ins and jump shots for Ersan.
ADAM McGINNIS: Both Ilyasova and Booker are playing some of the best basketball of their professional careers in the past month so this should be a key one-on-one battle. Ilyasova is a tough guard because he can scrap down low and has ability to knock down 3-pointers, shooting just under 39-percent from long range. Booker’s low-post game has improved; he is able to get shots off effectively with both hands and he is shooting a respectable 50-percent from 10-15 feet. The key will be if Booker can stay out of foul trouble, as this plagued him in the Sacramento loss before the All-Star break and rendered him ineffective. Ilyasova will get his points but Booker will make him work for it, and Trevor will have a bounce back offensive back game.
KYLE WEIDIE: If Booker doesn’t have a vintage “Cook Book” game, I might start to become concerned. He needs to be a force like he was against the Heat on Feb. 10 to the tune 13 points and 15 boards. Booker won’t get a lot of plays run for him, which means he needs to create points by rebounding and finding the right areas to be the bailout pass for his teammates. More importantly, Booker needs to keep Ilyasova off the glass; at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, Ilyasova shouldn’t be too much of a specimen for the 6-7, 240 pound Booker to handle. What concerns me is Ilyasova’s ability to spread the court; he is shooting 38.8-percent from deep on the season, and Trevor has the tendency to forget about shooters. Still, my hope is that Booker has the better night, especially since he wasn’t a starter the last time these two teams played.
#2) Washington’s current record is 7-26 and they sit second to last in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are 13-20 and tied for ninth in the Conference with the Cleveland Cavilers. Andrew Bogut has missed the last 16 games with a broken ankle and Milwaukee is 6-10 in his abscence. John Wall’s play has superb over the past month but his early season struggles contributed to his team’s poor first half of the season. Which team has been a bigger disappointment so far in 2011-12 season? Which team has the brighter future?
CHOUINARD: The Bucks are the bigger disappointment. GM John Hammond hasn’t pushed the ‘Rebuild’ button yet, but he has taken it out of the box and coolly stroked it with his thumb. Any success the Bucks were going to have this season was predicated on Bogut anchoring the defense, and point guard Brandon Jennings making a third-year ‘leap’. Bogut left to Australia for a week for still unknown personal reasons before getting hurt. Jennings made the leap, then mysteriously fell flat. Now questions abound, and the Wizards — with a two-year head start in their rebuilding project — have the brighter future.
McGINNIS: The 2011-12 Wizards are a floundering mess but the Bucks have their own major issues. Stephen Jackson is causing problems and wants out. After sensational start, Brandon Jennings is slumping and publicly wandering what it would be like on another team. Bogut is reportedly on the trading block, although he is still a few months away from being healthy. The Wizards have been a bigger disappointment because the team was barely even competitive for the first month of the season and the Bucks still have a shot at making the playoffs. Even though Jennings and Bogut are a better duo to build around than any partner Wall currently has on his roster, the Wizards have potential for a brighter future. The Bucks are caught in limbo land of not being bad enough to rebuild, but not good enough to be a legit playoff team, while facing a contract decision with Jennings and the possibility that Bogut is too injury-prone to be a force again. The Wizards will get another top draft pick in June and have a nice cap situation to make some bold moves; they will compete at a higher level sooner than Milwaukee.
WEIDIE: People didn’t expect the Wizards to be good, but by no means did most expect them to be this bad. Still, lottery is lottery and it’s all relative. The Bucks, on the other hand, were expected to perhaps compete for the fourth or fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, so they are easily more disappointing. Like Washington, Milwaukee does have some young hopefuls on their roster (in addition to Jennings) — Jon Leuer, Luc Mbah a Moute and Larry Sanders. Unlike Washington, Milwaukee does’t have as many young options to evaluate for the future, nor is it likely they will have a high pick in the upcoming deep draft. It’s brighter in D.C.
#3) Since the 2005-06 season, the Wizards have a record of 4-9 in 13 games at Milwaukee and includes the Bucks blowing Washington out 101-82 on December 30th, 2011. The Wizards have lost four straight games and the Bucks limped into the All Star break by losing six out of their last seven contests. The current betting line has Milwaukee favored by 7.5 points. Do the Bucks cover the spread? Or do the Wizards win straight up?
CHOUINARD: The Bucks are 4-2 at home this year against teams with a current record of .500 or below. Milwaukee tends to build big first-half leads and then let opponents catch up in the third quarter. The Bucks will most likely pull out a close victory without covering the spread.
McGINNIS: Losing a 21-point lead to the New Jersey Nets in the opener and then a blowout loss to Atlanta in subsequent game were the first troubling signs that this could be a long season for the Wizards. Getting trounced by the Bucks in game three was when reality started to sit in with Washington fans. In retrospect, Flip Saunders approving an incorrect roster symbolized that his days in Washington were likely numbered, as this incident was also the beginning of this season’s national media mockery of the team that continues to this day. (Thanks, JaVale!) During the first matchup, the Bucks built a 65-41 lead at halftime. The Wizards scratching back with a 26-13 third quarter, but the Bucks closed the game out by holding Washington to only 14 points in final period. Jennings outplayed Wall, finishing with 22 points compared to John’s six. I expect Wall to continue his high caliber February play Tuesday night but the Wizards supporting cast will fail him. Bucks win 98-86.
WEIDIE: Going back to Caron Butler breaking his hand on the backboard trying to block a shot by Ruben Patterson in Milwaukee on April 1, 2007, and up to the Roger Mason roster debacle this season, Washington just hasn’t had luck in Wisconsin. These two teams are pretty even in rebounding prowess, but the Bucks are much better at taking care of the ball (13.2 turnover percentage, tied for third-lowest in the NBA), while the Wizards are decent at giving the ball away (14.5 TOV%, 18th-lowest in the league). The All-Star break isn’t going to fix Washington’s offensive woes, especially because of the rust. The Wizards cover the spread, but lose 95-89 tonight.