D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards at Bobcats, Game 32
Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Just one week ago, the Wizards were winners of five out of six games, Nene and Martell Webster had solidified the bench, Bradley Beal’s knee was bruised but not ACL’d, and John Wall was building the type of momentum worthy of an All-Star bid. There were still flaws bubbling under the surface—Trevor Ariza seemed to be cooling down, Otto Porter was clueless, and the Wizards were prone to lapses on both ends of the floor—but Randy Wittman’s young nucleus seemed to be gaining confidence. Even Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis unveiled an entire suitcase worth of advanced stats to prove the Wizards were on the brink of a breakthrough.
A week and a new year later, the Wizards are losers of three straight games to Dallas, Toronto and Golden State. The loss to the Mavericks could be chalked up to a post-New Year’s Eve hangover. But the losses to Toronto and Golden State featured third quarters of shooting percentages below 30 percent, selfish play, and non-existent defense. As TAI’s Sean Fagan alluded to after the Golden State game, Wittman stopped just short of throwing his team under the bus, but calling your team “careless, front runners, who can’t fight through misses, which zaps their own energy as well as their teammates” is not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The Wizards’ reward for their bumbling start to 2014 is a stretch of four games in five nights—three of which are on the road. Their first challenge is to conquer Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, and the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats had been in the midst of a brutal stretch of their own with five consecutive losses (four on the road), but Walker and Jefferson helped snap that streak with a 113-103 win over the Kings in Sacramento on Saturday.
Teams: Wizards vs. Bobcats
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: The Time Warner Cable Area, Charlotte, NC
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/THE FAN-FM 106.7
Spread: The Wizards are favored by 1.5 points.
Wizards tickets … anyone?
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Q #1: Washington has had its share of injuries this year (Bradley Beal’s knee, Nene’s whole body, Martell Webster’s ankle, Al Harrington’s knee), but the general feeling is that when healthy, this is a playoff team.
Charlotte has injuries of its own now, from Ben Gordon’s knee to MKG”s hand to Brendan Haywood’s foot and, more recently, Jeff Taylor’s Achilles tendon. I know the Bobcats are currently seventh in the East and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, but when completely healthy, are they a legitimate playoff team? And what personnel moves should they make before the trade deadline?
@QCHspencer: Yeah, I don’t think that there’s any question that Charlotte is a playoff team when healthy, and that’s mostly due to the fact that Steve Clifford has given this roster an identity: defense. When MKG returns in a few weeks, it should glue together a defense that’s been reeling recently. If this team is able to remain competent up until the All-Star break, I do believe Jordan will be a buyer. This team needs a shooter/scorer off the bench—someone of the Nick Young, Marvin Williams, Aaron Afflalo mold could make the Bobcats a first-round winner in this pathetic Eastern Conference.
Q #2: Steve Clifford has been less than pleased about the Bobcats’ defense as of late. Why has it regressed? And speaking of Clifford, what grade would you give him as a coach and why?
@QCHspencer: The defense has been spiraling out of control lately because of the absence of MKG and Jeff Taylor. Both of these guys are already elite point-of-attack defenders in this league. Without either one, Charlotte is having to ask Anthony Tolliver to guard the opposing team’s best player on most nights—yeah, it hasn’t ended too well. Also, teams have figured out how you break the Bobcats’ defense: beat them off the bounce, which wasn’t happening much at all at the beginning of the season. Clifford preaches gap defense and staying connected to the ball one pass away, so as teams have been able to draw second and third defenders recently, they’ve created wide-open shots for themselves.
Q #3: Otto Porter and Cody Zeller were taken third and fourth respectively in the 2013 NBA draft.
Otto Porter was timid in Summer League, then he was injured for an extended stretch, and in the 12 games he’s played this season, there have been very, very brief flashes of play worthy of a No. 3 overall draft pick, but extended stretches of even more timid play. How has Cody Zeller looked so far this season? And do you believe that was the right pick for Charlotte?
@QCHspencer: Zeller hasn’t looked very good at all so far this season. In fact, he’s 5-for-28 (17.8%) from the floor in his past six games. The concern about his lack of strength leading up to the draft has proven to be a real truth. Most of all, he’s look extremely uncomfortable on the floor—that’s definitely what has surprised me the most. Zeller will likely end up being a nice rotation player in this league over time, but it does appear that the franchise missed on their second straight front-court, top-10 selection.
Q #4: Where have you gone, Trevor Ariza?
@Rashad20: Prior to the Wizards’ three-game losing streak, Trevor Ariza had failed to score in double figures just twice in 23 games, he had not gone consecutive games without at least one steal, and he was shooting a career-high 41 percent from the 3-point line. While TAI’s Sean Fagan has attributed Ariza’s inspired play to the contract year he finds himself in, there’s no denying his effectiveness on both ends of the floor this season—something I tactfully observed earlier in late-October:
The box score says Ariza has one steal, but he's gotten his hands on lots of balls tonight
— Rashad Mobley (@rashad20) October 31, 2013
However, during the Wizards’ 0-for-2014 three-game slide, Ariza’s play on both sides of the ball has markedly declined. Against the Mavericks on New Year’s Day he shot just 3-for-14 (21%) from the field, 1-for-7 from the 3-point line, and scored just eight points. The pattern in that game was pretty simple: John Wall would penetrate, kick the ball out to a wide-open Ariza, and he’d miss. Two nights later against Toronto, Ariza seemed to solve his shooting paradox (2-for-3 with six points), but he was ejected with 6:08 left in the third quarter after arguing his second offensive foul call of the night with referee Joey Crawford. He didn’t miss much, as the rest of his Wizards’ teammates were in the midst of being outscored 36-16. Perhaps even more troubling was Ariza’s admission after the game:
“It was a frustrating day. All the way around. But that’s no excuse for our lack of focus, or whatever, starting with me. I wasn’t into the game, so I take full responsibility for that.”
Ariza didn’t appear to be into Sunday night’s game against the Warriors, either, and this time there was no ejection to put him out of his misery. He was held without a steal for the second consecutive game, and he scored just four points in 27 minutes on 1-of-7 shooting (0-for-5 from 3-point range).
When Ariza is at his best, he’s disruptive on defense, he’s getting deflections, he’s getting rebounds, and he’s even throwing in an assist or two—all of which seemed to serve as a catalyst to the other phases of his game. But as Randy Wittman has alluded to about all his players during this three-game losing streak, when Ariza’s shots stopped connecting, his effort declined all the way around. It is just another case of highs, lows, and oh nos.
The good news is that tonight’s game against the Bobcats is on the road. The last time Ariza played on the road against the Pistons (Dec. 4 of last year), he had one of his finest all-around games with 15 points (3-of-7 from 3-point range), 11 rebounds, six steals, and four assists.
BONUS QUESTION: How is everyone in Charlotte feeling about Michael Jordan The Owner in 2014?
@QCHspencer: I think people are waiting to see what this team ends up doing this season. If they overachieve expectations plus end up flirting with .500 this season, then this will be a fan base that I think surprises the league a bit. It’s already jumping in Charlotte due to the return of the Hornets nickname next season. Add that to the pot of a potential three first-round draft picks this summer and Jordan’s stock with the fan base is shelved, sure, but the likelihood for it to rise is high.
Trevor Chilliza, Post-Game Interview: Wizards vs. Warriors:
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