Opening Statements: Wizards vs Hornets, Game 49 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Hornets, Game 49

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Updated: February 2, 2015

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Tonight the Wizards host the Charlotte Hornets at the Verizon Center. There was a while there, after last season’s All-Star break but before the 2014-15 season had done much more than fire the starting gun, when it would have been appropriate to refer to this division matchup as a rivalry. Both teams squeezed into the bottom half of the East’s playoff field last season after long periods of virtual irrelevance; both teams appeared to have solid foundational pieces in place with plenty of upside; and both teams seemed to have coaches who, while perhaps not tactical savants, at least proved capable of providing an important brand of operational stability and no-nonsense leadership. It was possible, after Washington’s stirring playoff series victory over the Chicago Bulls, to imagine either one of the two teams charging to the top of a wide-open Southeast Division and grabbing at least a round’s worth of home-court advantage for the 2015 playoffs.

Here we are, well past the season’s halfway point, and there’s surprisingly little by way of juice to this matchup. Some of that might be because this date (February 2), for a first meeting between the teams of the season, is the latest in the entire history of the expansion Bobcats/Hornets—frankly, the two teams haven’t had to think about each other a whole lot to this point. The other part of it comes down to the Hornets simply failing to hold up their end of the bargain. While the Wizards have been one of the East’s top teams from the jump, the Bobcats struggled to incorporate new personnel and dropped like a stone to the bottom of the league, a development few if any would have predicted, even in a worst-case scenario. They’re on the charge of late, winning 10 of their last 13 games and jumping up to the 8-seed in the East’s flimsy playoff pack, but even those limited gains come with uninspiring context: eight of those 10 wins have come against sub-.500 teams, and this recent run of success comes on the heels of a five-game losing streak to end December.

All of this sort of begs the question: Just who the hell are the 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets?

Well, for starters, they’re a team that, on paper, is so alike the 2014-15 Washington Wizards as to be genuinely spooky. The similarities start at the defensive end, where the teams’ defensive ratings are separated by just a tenth of a point, with Washington’s 100.4 eking out Charlotte’s 100.5 for eighth best in the NBA. How do the Bobcats do it? In part by allowing the fewest shots from the restricted area in the league, just ahead of—you guessed it—second place Washington. Charlotte’s already-impressive defensive points-per-possession is translated to even more striking scoreboard numbers by maintaining the league’s eighth slowest pace, where their rate of 95.21 is slower than the Wizards’ by just 0.65 possessions per 48 minutes.

Differences that might account for Washington’s win/loss advantage start to show up among the two teams’ offensive numbers, but even these are largely matters of success, rather than approach. Both teams are in the bottom 10 in creating shots in the restricted area, but on these valuable and elusive looks the Wizards are outshooting the Hornets significantly, to the tune of 63 percent to 53 percent. With regards to the other best shot in basketball—the 3-pointer—both teams are stuck in the NBA’s bottom 5 in attempts per game. But here, again, the Wizards are shooting a healthy 37.9 percent, good for fourth best in the NBA, while the Bobcats, at 30.6 percent, are second from the bottom. And, of course, neither team’s offense should be discussed without mentioning their unhealthy splurging on midrange jumpers: the teams are both in the NBA’s top 3 in ratio of points generated from the midrange. And while the teams are neck and neck in accuracy (and I hesitate to use that word) from 15-to-19 feet, the underwhelming Wizards jump-shooters are nevertheless dramatically outshooting their woeful Hornets counterparts from the relatively shallow 10-to-14-foot midrange area (40.6% to 34.7%, respectively).

These numbers more or less support what is observable of these two teams in action: they play enough tough, stingy defense to stay in games, but have a whale of a time generating the kinds of shots that will form the foundation of a prolific offense. The respective causes of this common affliction are significantly different, however: while Washington surrenders the most valuable areas, under the misguided notion that an offense can take adequate nutrition from the charity of competent NBA defenses, the Hornets are cursed with a roster that presents possibly-insurmountable spacing problems, even for a coach as smart as Steve Clifford. Put simply, the only player on Charlotte’s entire roster who demands undivided attention from beyond the arc is Gary Neal, and he’s a reserve, and the drop-off from there into the core of the Hornets roster is precipitous.

Like the Wizards, the Hornets appear, then, to be a team that has to make a certain number of the bad and ill-advised shots that are practically deep fried into their offense in order to win games, and that’s just not a healthy diet. It’s no coincidence that Charlotte’s recent win streak began when the now-injured Kemba Walker, Taker of Bad Shots, went on an unsustainable hot streak from exactly those areas and on exactly those shots that, to that point, had been much of the cause of Charlotte’s offensive woes. In a season in which wins have been hard to come by and the organization’s playoff ambitions are tantalizingly within reach, even after a horrific start, any magical streak that points the ship upward, even superficially, is a cause for celebration.

Now that Walker is out for six weeks, the Bobcats will need players who, to this point generally take as much (or more) off the table at the offensive end as they add at the defensive end, to take as much of whatever the next step is in their career growth as they can—and right away. Charlotte’s defense has been humming over their last 13 games, allowing just 89 points per 100 possessions, but unless they can significantly increase either their offensive production or their pace, it’s hard to imagine them making much of a leap from blue-collar also-ran to what many predicted as their rightful place among the East’s elite.

Meanwhile, the Wizards have played their way to a 5-5 record over their last 10 games. Randy Wittman’s tinkering with minutes and lineups is either the cause or the result (or both) of streaky, unreliable play from just about everyone not named John Wall. After giving up 100 or more points just 12 times through their first 30 games, the Wizards have allowed opponents to top 100 in 10 of their last 18, an alarming amount of defensive slippage, especially given that the team’s already-underwhelming sub-3.0 Net Rating pointed to Washington as an intriguing candidate for post-All Star-break regression. With teams like Cleveland and Milwaukee finding their form and looking to charge up the standings, and, to a lesser extent, a team like division foe Charlotte hungry and desperate and on the hunt, this is potentially a critical time in the Wizards season.

What I’m saying, here, is this: The Wizards need to get back to their winning ways, and asserting superiority over a crippled “rival” like Charlotte would be a great place to start.


Teams: Wizards vs Hornets
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia
Television: CSN
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 7.5 points


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Chris Thompson