Key Legislature: Wizards 88 vs Hornets 92 — What A Buzzkill | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 88 vs Hornets 92 — What A Buzzkill

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Updated: February 3, 2015

Truth About It.net’s Key Legislature: a quick run-down and the game’s defining moment(s) for Washington Wizards contest No. 49 versus the Charlotte Hornets in the District, via Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) from the Verizon Center.

DC Council Key Legislature

by Kyle Weidie.

What’s the problem? How bad is it? How can it be fixed?

Easy, open-ended questions to ask. Answers as difficult to find as teenage angst. Grown men, and not-so-grown men, playing sports—this is serious stuff.

The Washington Wizards, in a cloud of their own exhale, have been struggling with where to place themselves amongst Eastern Conference powerhouses. They are 2-7 against the NBA’s Top 8 teams and 6-12 against teams .550 and better. Six quality wins have come against the Clippers, Cavaliers, Spurs, Rockets, and Bulls (twice). Twice beating Milwaukee and New Orleans only count as second-tier wins.

After a home loss at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets (who have now beat Washington four straight times with the previous three going down last Spring), the Wizards find themselves in a slump that compounds questions over the legitimacy as Conference champions, or title contenders, depending on your level of faith in D.C. basketball. Three straight losses and losses in five of the last seven games. Slightly bigger picture: after starting the season 19-6, the Wizards have gone 12-13 since December 21.

More immediate: The traditional box score from Monday night’s four-point loss to Charlotte lies. It makes you think the game was close. Both teams shot 15 3-pointers, Washington made two more (6). Both teams shot 19 free throws, Washington made two more (16). The Wizards scored five more second-chance points (13) and nine more points off turnovers (20). But it wasn’t merely about missing shots—Washington shot 40.7 percent, Charlotte shot 46.8 percent.

If you didn’t watch the game, Randy Wittman’s short and not-so-sweet post-game media session would serve as a more telling indicator than the box score.

“The key tonight was, we don’t play hard anymore. That falls on me. I’ll take that,” the coach said, before accusing players of playing the blame game. “Look yourself in the mirror and say ‘What can I do more?’ rather than point our finger at ‘It’s not me.’ ”

The Hornets quickly built a nine-point lead in the first quarter, led by as much as seven in the second, by twelve in the third, and by eight in the fourth quarter. They persistently kept the Wizards at a wing’s length. Charlotte totaled just two more assists than Washington (21-19), but baptized the night with ball movement (13 hockey assists compared to Washington’s four).

That ball movement is what led to finger pointing and frustration from the Wizards early. The defensive game plan versus Charlotte’s stud, Al Jefferson, varied throughout the night, but the initial look of Marcin Gortat and his length (more than Nenê) one-on-one seemed to be sound. But that also meant that other Wizards needed to be in tune to off-ball movement and Charlotte’s pick-and-roll game. They weren’t, which is perhaps why Garrett Temple, the best defender amongst Washington’s reserves, was first off the bench. Energetic as hot dog water and crisp as a soggy bun, Washington was. Their leader, John Wall, was also off his game. The Hornets were hip to Wall’s penchant for jumping to pass (with Wall, it’s often a good move; usually not for anyone else). Late in the opening quarter Wall tried to back down the smaller Brian Roberts, filling in for the injured Kemba Walker. Wall’s attempt was softly doubled and soon after rejected.

Washington found more success on the offensive end in the second quarter. They moved the ball well (even Kevin Seraphin made a nice extra pass to find Bradley Beal for 3), and attacked the basket, earning 12 of their 19 attempts at the free throw line in the period. But the Hornets also continued to move the ball, targeting Beal’s defense with the stronger Gerald Henderson, known Wizards killer, early in the quarter, and then shifted offensive scheming to get Jefferson some open looks late. Jefferson got better position in the middle of the paint and his teammates provided better spacing, leading to a couple relatively unguardable isolation baby hooks over Gortat.

The third quarter brought the collapse of whatever the Wizards thought they were building. They were whistled for seven fouls (two offensive) and Paul Pierce added a technical foul before Washington scored their first points of the period, a Beal 3-point shot at the 6:24 mark that cut Charlotte’s lead to nine. Visibly frustrated by herky-jerky play spawned by referee whistles (and themselves), the Wizards lost focus and missed several easy shots. Wall continued to struggle maneuvering the offense and turned the ball over three times in the third quarter. The Hornets weren’t helping their own cause, either, shooting 31.6 percent in the period to Washington’s 36.8 percent.

The teams battled to a 22-22 draw in the fourth quarter. The Wizards used an early 8-3 run to get within two points, but the Hornets answered with a 10-4 run of their own. Jefferson checked back in at the 6:37 mark after a Charlotte timeout and proceeded to score six points and grab four rebounds over the next six minutes.

Two key plays from the Hornets sealed Washington’s fate. With 2:20 left and a four-point lead, Roberts darted past Wall, completely unimpeded. Because of a switch and a switch back, Nene, guarding Cody Zeller, was out of position to help. Gortat left Jefferson to contest a runner from Roberts but it was too late. Nene would go on to miss an isolation post attempt versus Zeller on the other end—it lacked creativity, purpose, and floated well short of success. Charlotte, back on the attack, looked to get the ball to Jefferson in the left post, or at least to use that potential action to create otherwise. So when Gortat fronted Jefferson, a scheme which had worked for most defensive possessions, the Hornets reversed the ball to the right side of the floor. Beal and Pierce seemed to be unsure in terms of who was helping Gortat’s backside, and that left both scrambling to recover to Henderson on the perimeter, opening Michael Kidd-Gilchrist up on the baseline for an easy layup that put Charlotte up eight points with 1:44 left.

Shrugged shoulders and empty looks were exchanged amongst the Wizards as they retreated into a timeout.

“Sometimes I think our guys think we’ve played 50 and everybody else has played 20, and they feel sorry for themselves. Everybody’s in the same boat. Nobody’s feeling good, and we’re succumbing to that, and I’ve got to fix that,” diagnosed Wittman as part of his post-game conclusion.

The problem?

Consistently being able to beat quality teams is one thing. But the Wizards have issues with consistently being able to compete with quality teams. According to the Simple Rating System (SRS, via Basketball-Reference.com), a team rating that factors point differential and strength of schedule with the average being zero, the Wizards rank 16th in the NBA (sixth in the East) with a 1.14, the last rating on the plus side before the rest of the league falls into negative territory. (See? There are some positives.)

After a lackluster performance at home against a middle-of-the-pack team without their star point guard—after two straight losses to Phoenix and Toronto—you had a coach calling out players for not working hard while also trying to send messages to them through the media (Wittman knew the press would ask players about his comments afterward). The locker room was meaninglessly somber and filled with empty, but true, cliches: “We haven’t been the same team that got up and was physical and tough on them. We are pretty soft right now,” said Bradley Beal.

How bad is it?

Gelling as a cohesive unit is a hope that every team, good and bad, hopes to achieve as the season progresses. The Wizards aren’t doing that right now and it’s a major concern. Most teams—every team—will go through struggles (especially before the All-Star break). Sometimes they make it to other side improved from the experience.

How can it be fixed?

A certain amount of patience is understandable, and allowed. The Wizards have an open roster spot (after waiving Glen Rice) to address weaknesses. Right now, they’re trying to figure out which weakness is the greatest concern—scoring and slashing off the bench; perimeter defense; rim protection—while letting time dictate who might be available. NBA All-Star weekend, now five games away, is usually where roster maneuverings develop. The Wizards don’t necessarily need to commit to a Nate Robinson or a Nate Wolters or a Will Bynum at this juncture.

The day after the loss to Charlotte, Wittman and his boys got “dirty,” reports Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post.

“It’s that part of the year. The weather sucks outside. It’s snowing and blowing and cold and your chapped lips,” said the coach about sucking it up.

Let’s remember, this team has grown a lot already. They are more than capable of growing some more. But there are still weeds in the garden of roster capability, putting a ceiling on anything Washington can do with coaching on the practice court or by looking in the mirror. A game like the one against Charlotte on Super Bowl Monday (which should be a national holiday) is easily forgettable, although the Wizards certainly shouldn’t be so quick to bury it under the dirt.

Wittman, when asked if he could find any positives after the worst four-point loss in history: “Well, we’re still breathing, the sun will come up tomorrow, and we’ve got to get back in the gym and get to work.”


 

20150202-randy-wittman

[“The key tonight is we don’t play hard anymore, and that’s on me. I’ll take that.” -#WittmanFace before devouring the triangle in front of him. — instagram.com/truthaboutit]

20150202-marcin-gortat

[No Mohawk Zone, White Walls Only. #Gortat — instagram.com/truthaboutit]

Kyle Weidie on EmailKyle Weidie on GoogleKyle Weidie on InstagramKyle Weidie on LinkedinKyle Weidie on TwitterKyle Weidie on Youtube
Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.