Opening Statements: Wizards at Pistons, Game 56 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at Pistons, Game 56

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Updated: February 22, 2015


Teams: Wizards at Pistons
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Venue: The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, MI
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WTEM-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards favored by 1.5 points.


Less than 48 hours after suffering their worst home loss in nearly 40 years (to the Cleveland Cavaliers), the crisis-mode Washington Wizards are now in Detroit to face the Pistons.

There certainly is no shame in suffering a big loss right after this All-Star break, because the Wizards were in good company in that regard. The Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks suffered a 25-point home loss to Lou Williams and the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. That same night, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs lost by 21 points on the road to the Western Conference-leading Golden State Warriors. But the difference between what happened to the Wizards and what happened to the Hawks and the Spurs can be found in the postgame reactions.

After the Hawks loss, Coach Mike Budenholzer was concerned with his team’s defense, and swingman DeMarre Carroll said, “The shots we took were good shots, we just missed them. We just have to get back in the lab, get to the film.”

The most telling quote came from Al Horford, one of the team’s leaders who said, “Give them credit, they’re a great team, but we’re a confident group.” No panic, no squabbling, just an anomaly the team has to overcome.

Following the Spurs’ loss, Coach Gregg Popovich was his normal cranky self, and he did not take nor answer a single postgame question. Manu Ginobili took the glass half-full approach and said, “We didn’t play that bad, they were just inspired and we couldn’t make shots.” It isn’t surprising that the defending champions would take a blowout loss in February in stride, but the players on the Spurs and the Hawks trust their system, trust each other and trust their coaches (Budenholzer fell from the Popovich coaching tree).

The Wizards haven’t been as successful as the Hawks this season, or the Spurs over the last 18 seasons, and it showed in their lack of post-game composure. Coach Randy Wittman aired the team’s dirty laundry by mentioning he had guys complaining about their lack of playing time. Paul Pierce and Marcin Gortat disagreed via the media on where to play the defensive blame against the Cavaliers. Pierce felt like team defense could have improved, because the Wizards lack “extremely great individual” defenders. Gortat felt like his teammates were too reliant on help defense, and that the Wizards needed to “man up” and win their individual matchups.

There was not a singular, positive voice telling the media that the team would stay the course, be positive, and come back the next game against Detroit. Wittman did mention after Saturday’s practice in Washington that both Pierce and Gortat were right, but what happens Sunday afternoon in the Motor City will determine just how deeply Friday’s post-game comments affected the team.

Speaking of positivity, the Wizards face a Detroit Pistons team that is brimming with confidence. They defeated the Chicago Bulls on Friday, 100-91, despite only dressing 10 players. On Thursday they acquired Reggie Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder (which offsets the loss of Brandon Jennings, out at least six weeks with an Achilles injury). The 22-33 Pistons are currently one game behind each the Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets for the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference, and one and a half games behind the Miami Heat for seventh. While everyone in the NBA family wishes a speedy recovery to Chris Bosh (out for the season with blood clots in his lungs), the reality is that the Heat may struggle to maintain their playoff slot and the Pistons are primed to take it. The Wizards cannot afford to mentally jump to Tuesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors and overlook this Detroit team. The mere concept of Washington overlooking any team at this juncture—including the 5th grade boys team at St. Mary’s School for the Blind—seems unfathomable.

The Wizards’ keys to victory, ironically enough, depend on the two players who were the most vocal after Friday night’s blowout loss: Marcin Gortat and Paul Pierce. Gortat had just eight points and six rebounds, and registered neither in the second half. There were at least four occasions where he failed to grab an attainable rebound and, at one point, Coach Wittman decided he’d seen enough and subbed in Drew Gooden. Pierce’s disappearing act on Friday night was even more problematic, given how much he harped on the importance of protecting home court during preseason. He had nine points, three turnovers and zero 3-pointers in 27 minutes of play, and he was also scoreless in second half. Pierce has not played well in a Wizards’ win since the January victory over the Denver Nuggets when he scored 19 points. He’s 37 years old, and to this point Wittman has not asked Pierce to carry the team offensively, but with Beal still out and the team in an obvious funk, now is as good of a time as any for Pierce to summon some Celtics-era magic. If that’s even possible.

Wall and Nene held up their end of the offensive bargain against the Cavs, as they so often do, by combining for 36 points on 61 percent shooting. But Gortat, Pierce and at least one bench player need to step up, because another loss could lead to more panic, more disagreements via the media and even bloodier pixels.

After all the early-season hype, this House of Guards may be nothing more than a house of cards: easily toppled, and perhaps from the inside out.


Notes:

  • After today, the Wizards and Pistons will face off one more time (next Saturday in Washington) to complete the three-game season series.
  • Washington beat Detroit, 107-103, way back in the eighth game of the season.
  • John Converse Townsend set the scene for the key moments from that first meeting in which John Wall led the Wizards to a squeaker of a win:

Wall finished the game with 27 points, 11 assists, three rebounds, three steals, one block, and just one turnover. Pierce put up 13 points on 11 shots and added eight rebounds. Gortat posted his third double-double of the year with 14 points and 13 rebounds. His last basket probably won the Wizards the game. It came very late in the action, and it was set up by John Wall, of course.

Wall had just hit a 10-foot runner to give the Wizards a 101-100 lead with 70 seconds to play. Greg Monroe was kind enough to turn the ball over on the Pistons’ next possession, which gave gave the Wizards the rock and the lead with less than a minute to play. The ball was spotted by the scorer’s table, with Pierce looking to pop out for 3 from behind some major screen action on the weak side. Pierce wasn’t open, so Wall checked back to the ball, pivoted, and waited for Nene to set a pick at the top of the arc. Wall used it to perfection, controlled his speed, and hit Nene in stride with a textbook pocket pass. The Pistons defense, specifically Josh Smith and Kyle Singler, rushed to recover and seal off the open lane to the rim. They succeeded, but that’s exactly what John Wall and Nene wanted.

The big Brazilian slipped an underhand pass to Gortat, cutting baseline, who finished uncontested. Wizards 103, Pistons 100.

 

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.