Key Legislature: Washington 91 vs Chicago 99: Wizards Go Down to Ugly Elevator Music | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Washington 91 vs Chicago 99: Wizards Go Down to Ugly Elevator Music

Updated: December 24, 2014

Truth About’s Key Legislature: a quick run-down and the game’s defining moment(s) for Washington Wizards contest No. 27 versus the Chicago Bulls in Washington, via Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks) from the Verizon Center.

DC Council Key Legislature

by Conor Dirks.

After another convincing loss to another good team, answers were hard to come by and flaws were hard to admit. Randy Wittman probably came closest to describing the sheer off-ness of it all, when he said: “You know it just didn’t feel like we got in any kind of rhythm offensively all game. The comfort level of getting in a rhythm. At the start the game especially, we got off, missed a lot of good shots, missed some layups…”

Wittman elaborated further, when asked about Wall’s fourth quarter push: “Pace is of vital importance especially against a team like this. You can’t get into a walkup. Especially our second unit in the first half just walked it up.”

At 95.7 possessions per game, the Wizards currently sit at sixteenth in the NBA in pace factor. This middling speed ranking, enough to keep you far from the Mario Kart podium, will probably offend some, considering the Wizards feature Wall, who may very well be the fastest player in the NBA with the ball in his hands. If we’re talking about rhythm, though, pace is only part of the discussion.

Rhythm is developed by making shots, sure. But how you take them counts, too. It’s finding teammates in spots that they like to take shots and allowing them the time to shoot them. It’s working through a possession like a metronome until you have a window to hit that high note. Rhythm is the melted down product of consistent effort, good decisions, and dictating the pace of the game rather than reacting to it.

From game to game, Washington’s rhythm has been unpredictable. Every night, it’s a different song. And because the Wizards are a good team, they can get away with a show played a beat behind, or on the other end of the spectrum, with frenetic energy better befitting a mosh pit. Without getting tied up in the concept of identity, this team is all over the place, and still figuring out, after one-third of a season, how to score points. Now 17th overall in points per game (counting a 133-point effort against Boston in 2OT), the Wizards feature a dissonant combination of sharps, flats, and major chords.

For the second straight game, Washington’s big men doubled as volume shooters, and long jumpers from Marcin Gortat and Nene were disastrous, shaving points off the board with ill-fated attempts that looked as unnatural as “Any Given Sunday On Ice.” But it’s not just on the men with their fingers on the trigger. Early in the season, Washington’s passing was purposeful, directed, pretty. Against the Bulls, as it was against the Suns, it was perfunctory.

A cautionary tale about exposing a lack of rhythm, which is really a story about a lack of either confidence or competence: a gangly teen arrives at the sixth grade dance, wearing a fleece pullover zipped all the way up to prevent anyone from noticing the lack of an undershirt, dancing to a slow song with his girlfriend for the first time. With no idea how to dance, he puts his hands on her shoulders. She moves them to her waist. Unsure of the proper decorum for distance during slow jams and not confident enough to step back and dance from a distance during a pop song, he’s left with the considerable space in between them, elbows unbent to reach across the chasm, trying to look at the nonexistent horizon behind her right shoulder. She laughs. No one else notices, probably because others are likewise caught in their own personal hells. But it’s clear to her, and to me (surprise!), I have no idea how to dance, or what good dancing feels like at a kinetic level.

I like to think I’ve gained that knowledge in some small regard over the years. Once you know your strengths, and weaknesses, you figure out the appropriate rhythm. I am pretty good at swaying back and forth in time, so instead of trying to be one of those fancy dudes who dips ladies during slow songs, I sway back and forth. It’s what I’m good at! Likewise, a song with a tempo no longer daunts me. I have several registered moves and employ them liberally, but not overwhelmingly, when appropriate. Not winning any awards, but not feeling like I have to transfer to another middle school.

The Wizards haven’t internalized (or militarized) their strengths enough to waltz into many 3-pointers, despite an NBA-best 38.9 percent conversion rate. After this loss (in which the team took just nine 3-point attempts) the Wizards sit at 15.6 3-point attempts per game. Twenty-seven teams shoot more 3-pointers than that. Of the NBA’s top five offenses, the lowest 3-point attempt average is the Toronto Raptors, at 24.8 attempts per game. Wittman’s comment about pace is apt: against the Bulls, 3-point attempts looked easiest to create when Wall was pushing the ball. As TAI’s Kyle Weidie pointed out on Twitter: creating corner 3-pointers is undeniably difficult, but not as difficult as Washington’s drought has made it out to be.

Instead of getting in close to the basket and finding an easy rhythm, or stepping back and showing their stuff from the 3-point line, the Wizards dance in that in-between space, their arms uncomfortably outstretched, not yet capable of consistent competence, or even consistent strategy.

This team’s heart don’t beat normal.

But despite the issues described above, Washington’s defense has kept them in games. As has John Wall.

The Wizards were down 86-75 with 5:41 to play in the fourth quarter when Wall hit the Bulls with a two-minute, ten-point nonpareil guitar solo in a game otherwise sounding a lot like a cell phone ringtone of “Cry Me a River.” Four layups, one 20-foot jump shot. Wall was unstoppable, and part of that was surprising the Bulls by pushing the ball and driving straight to the hoop instead of walking the ball up and getting into a halfcourt set.

And then, inexplicably, he slowed down. Whereas the sudden increase in tempo unlocked Wall’s strengths, taking a foot off the pedal (after taking a one-point lead with 3:44 remaining) doomed the Wizards to the hole they had just clambered out of. And that’s what Randy Wittman was describing, I think. No team can sustain a perpetual fast break, and there are going to be slow possessions. But walking the ball up throughout the first three quarters is not the balance, or the ideal rhythm, that Wittman is trying to achieve. An in-rhythm Wizards team is built around Wall’s speed, opening up the corners by threatening an easy layup, and then opening up the midrange by threatening the long bomb.

Wall, for his part, seemed less convinced that a lack of rhythm was the culprit, politely disagreeing with his coach’s description. According to Wall, it was more a case of missed shots. He’s not wrong, either. Washington had plenty of open looks, and blew the majority of them. On the night, the team knocked down just 38.1 percent of their 42 uncontested shots. One of the biggest culprits, Marcin Gortat (1-for-6 on uncontested shots, 5-for-15 overall), shook his head as he admitted that he had been missing a lot, and added that the Wizards “had a lot of open shots. We just missed them.”

Whether this loss resulted from a hard-to-define amalgamation of game factors or the simple reality of a basketball bouncing off the rim, the Wizards haven’t found an equation that works against the elite of either conference. As Paul Pierce said after the game, commenting on Washington’s lack of free throw attempts, “against a team like Chicago, you have to be the aggressor, you can’t let them get you back on your heels … it takes ball movement and aggressive drives to open up the offense.”

Fortunately, there are still 50-some games to work out the kinks of this suddenly spotlighted offense, even if the Wizards, with their counter-intuitive style, haven’t yet shown that they can smooth things out.

Final Words (via Pierce and Gortat)



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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.