Opening Statements: Wizards at Thunder, Game 32 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at Thunder, Game 32

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Updated: January 2, 2015

Washington Wizards vs Oklahoma City Thunder - Jan. 7, 2013

The Washington Wizards ended their best calendar year since becoming the Washington Wizards on a high note —

No they didn’t, dude. You can’t revise the Dallas game for the retroactive continuity of a happier narrative.

What Dallas game?

The blowout loss. In Dallas. Three days ago. It was on the 30th of December, around 8:00 p.m.

Nope.

Nope?

Nope.

To recap, the Wizards beat the Rockets, 104-103, and then didn’t play the Dallas Mavericks on the second night of a back-to-back. Despite what you may have been told, that never happened. At 22-9, the Wizards are currently in third place in an Eastern Conference that, while still not the bloodsport proving ground Western Conference in terms of depth, hosts a group of four top teams that are, at a minimum, competitive with the Western elite. After Toronto’s loss to Portland on December 30, the top four teams in the East (Toronto, Atlanta, Washington, and Chicago) are 5-3 against the top four teams in the West (Golden State, Portland, Memphis, and Houston). Beyond that, I’ll look for another hill to die on.

Three teams that weren’t mentioned above but that the Wizards will be challenged to defeat in the days to come are the likes of Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and New Orleans. These are good teams, despite San Antonio currently being the highest-seeded of all three in the seventh spot in the Western Conference. As I’m sure every red-blooded Wizards fan is aware, Oklahoma City (tonight’s opponent) was battered by an end-times swarm of injury bugs to start the season, missing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for weeks to start the season. The result is that the Thunder sport a losing record, despite being one of the most talented teams in the NBA.

Here’s the thing, though. Both players are back. Durant, returning from a second stint in a suit with an injury, scored 44 points, gathered 10 rebounds, and dished seven dimes against Phoenix a few days ago. Russell Westbrook is playing like he is the NBA’s best point guard. If the Wizards get off to a poor start against the Thunder, or lose focus mid-game as they did against Dallas, it will already be too late.

Rather than bother an opposing team’s blogger (they’ve probably blacklisted #WizardsTalk anyway so as to avoid #WizardsTalking about future player movement), I have heretofore listed three game preview-ish discussion items.


Teams: Wizards at Thunder
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Thunder fav’d by 6.5 points


Three Things.

Thing #1: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
According to 82games.com, the Thunder are plus-16.8 per 100 possessions when Kevin Durant is on the floor (9.1 point better on offense, 7.7 points better on defense). Russell Westbrook’s presence has a similarly dramatic impact: the Thunder are plus-17.0 per 100 possessions when Westbrook is on the floor (plus-13.8 points better on offense, 3.2 points better on defense). In 207 minutes on the court together, the duo has the highest plus/minus of any Oklahoma City two-man lineup (plus-8.4). Per 100 possessions, the duo’s net impact would be a plus-19.2.

This is just to say that the Wizards, who do not yet have any one player at the level of either Westbrook or Durant, will again need to play the kind of team ball that was responsible for their success against Houston. John Wall, an impact player close to rivaling the aforementioned Thunder stars, will only have that impact maximized if his teammates knock down the shots he frequently creates.

Thing #2:  Practice facilities, timing, [no] comments, David Adkins, and Trevor Ariza.
Free from the cagey, conservative responses of responsible writers, let’s discuss the elephant in the studio apartment. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis made news this week by constructively declining to comment on Washington’s very obvious, very practical, very on-the-horizon pursuit of Kevin Durant in the free agency summer of 2016. It’s a question that needs to be asked but really can’t be answered. The subtext of almost every Wizards acquisition, lowball offer, practice facility pitch, and hiring since they made the playoffs last season has been that Durant is on the minds of those that make such decisions.

It’s been fun to watch, if you like to watch these things.

When it was reported that Washington’s offer for Trevor Ariza was identical to the four-year, $32 million offer that Ariza accepted from Houston, I immediately felt as if the Wizards had simply covered their bases. It was brilliant, really. “Matching” Houston’s offer makes it seem as if: a) Ariza spurned a reasonable offer from the Wizards to join the Rockets; and b) the Wizards weren’t willing to pay above market value, despite their loyalty to a guy that was important to last year’s success.

Nevermind the blog post by Leonsis that preceded Ariza choosing to sign with Houston, which left Ariza off the owner’s list of the team’s most important players. Paying Ariza was a problem for one reason: Kevin Durant. Even at $8 million per year, a long-term contract for Ariza would have interfered with, or at least complicated, efforts to sign Durant outright in free agency. Perhaps attempting to avoid the kind of last-minute wheel-and-deal transactions that stripped Cleveland of several role players before LeBron’s signing, the Wizards have constructed team options for DeJuan Blair and Martell Webster for the 2016-17 season, and Paul Pierce was signed to a one-year deal with a player option for 2015-16, ending just in time to commit money to Durant, if he’ll have it.

And he probably won’t take the D.C. money. And he’ll probably stay in Oklahoma City. But that didn’t stop the Wizards from hiring a former coach and friend of Durant, David Adkins, as an assistant coach. Hey, while the team was in OKC, Adkins took the time to stop by Durant’s restaurant, Kevin Durant’s Southern Cuisine. It may not seem like much, but watching the Wizards prepare for an opportunity years ahead is a rare experience.

Thing #3: Steven Adams.
With Durant out, the Thunder altered lineup compositions to account for a different strategy, and one of the biggest beneficiaries was Steven Adams. His presence has allowed the Thunder to “go big,” pushing Serge Ibaka almost completely out of the center position, where he played almost a quarter of his minutes last season. Adams, less of an established part of the offense than Wizards center Marcin Gortat, is nevertheless an integral part of opening up space for Durant and Westbrook to be dangerous all on their own. As Luke Petkac notes in the above-linked piece, the Thunder have an offensive rebounding rate of 31.1 percent when Adams is on the floor, a rate that would easily be the best in the NBA were it true for the rest of Oklahoma City’s lineups. Matched up against a defensive rebound averse Kevin Seraphin, Adams could be a nightmare.

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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.