Opening Statements: Wizards vs Warriors, Game 57 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Warriors, Game 57

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Updated: February 24, 2015

Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors - Dec. 8, 2012 - Truth About It.net

So it turns out all those roster holes from the off-season (3-point shooter; bench playmaker; perimeter defender; stretch-4) didn’t disappear during the first half of the campaign. For all the (deserved) credit Ernie Grunfeld received for signing Kris Humphries and Paul Pierce, it’s the moves he didn’t make that threaten to derail any attempt to improve on last season’s second-round playoff performance.

For those who believe Randy Wittman is just as responsible for Washington’s shortcomings as the front office, tonight’s opponent provides a perfect example of how much of an impact a coaching change can make.

Former Warriors coach Mark Jackson and Wittman had similar coaching experiences in Golden State and Washington, respectively. Jackson took over an under-performing team with a talented, young backcourt and—after an initial 23-win season—led the Warriors to a surprising second-round playoff run in 2013 (beat Denver, lost to San Antonio) followed by a tough, seven-game first-round series defeat in 2014 (at the hands of the Clippers). Golden State owner, Joe Lacob, credited Jackson with changing the team’s culture and Jackson had the full and vocal support of his players. Sound familiar?

But all was not well in Oakland. Despite Jackson’s unquestioned on-court success, Warriors ownership decided to make a coaching change after last season, replacing Jackson with the inexperienced Steve Kerr. Kerr inherited what was ostensibly the same roster as Jackson and the results have been … well, staggering. Golden State currently sits atop the Western Conference with a 43-10 record and has morphed into a top five team both offensively and defensively.

Lacob’s explanation, as noted by ESPN, for why he fired Jackson even after the rookie coach led Golden State to its two most successful seasons in the past two decades, could just as easily apply to Wittman’s current situation:

“There’s a different CEO that may be required to achieve success at different stages of an organization’s development. When you’re a startup company it’s one thing, when you’re a small-growth company it’s one thing, and when you’re a mature company that’s trying to reach a billion in sales—or in this case win an NBA championship—perhaps that’s a different person. And we just felt overall we needed a different person.”

Before you start dreaming of a similar trajectory in Washington, it is worth noting one very big difference between Jackson and Wittman’s respective coaching tenures. Jackson famously clashed with Golden State’s front office over his management style. Last December, while explaining to a group of venture capitalists why he fired Jackson, Lacob stated that none of his 200 employees liked Jackson.

There is no such discord in Washington. (Or at least if there is, it’s being kept quiet.) It’s unclear what it would take to motivate Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis to make a coaching change after this season. Two years ago, simply playing .500 basketball for half a season was cause for celebration and an edict to bring back the entire roster intact. Last year, a second-round playoff appearance was enough to earn Wittman a two-year contract extension (with a team option for a third year). This season it is hard to imagine that anything short of an embarrassing first-round sweep would cost Wittman his job.

But enough of this depressing reality check. There is still a lot of season left and plenty of opportunities for Wittman and his crew to right the ship before the playoffs. What better way to get started than a marquee matchup against the best backcourt and the best team in the NBA.

Joining me to answer a few questions about the Warriors is Steve Berman (@BASportsGuy) of bayareasportsguy.com.


Teams: Wizards vs. Warriors
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WTEM-FM 99.1
Spread: Warriors favored by 4.5 6.5 points.


#1) Stephen Curry sat out Sundays’ game versus Indiana with an ankle injury (the Warriors lost by 6). He practiced on Monday but is listed as questionable for tonight’s game versus Washington. Given Curry’s early-career injury history, how concerned are you?

@BASportsGuy: It’s always concerning when the team’s best player misses time due to injury, but there’s no signal yet that the ailment is all that serious. I was at Friday’s home win against the Spurs, and I noticed Curry limp slightly for a few seconds while looking annoyed. I wondered if he tweaked his ankle, but then he started running normally and went back to making crazy highlight plays, so I totally forgot about that brief instance when Curry moved gingerly … until he was a pregame scratch in Indiana.

The Warriors are going to be cautious with Curry, and they may have thought they could steal a win against the Pacers without him. Curry said the pain stems from his heel after stepping on someone’s foot on Friday (the key there: it’s not his surgically-repaired left ankle), and the fact that the team’s medical staff isn’t keeping him off his feet entirely says they don’t believe anything is torn or too badly bruised. 

#2) Golden State has had a magical season so far. Yet, if the season ended today, their reward would be a first-round matchup versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. How jealous are you of the Eastern Conference path to the NBA Finals and how confident are you in the Warriors’ ability to navigate the Western Conference playoff minefield?

@BASportsGuyIf I’m a member of the Warriors, I’m probably a little annoyed. I know for a fact that people who’ve worked for the franchise for several years (including the TV play-by-play announcer) are still peeved that they missed the playoffs in 2008 with 48 wins, which set a record (the Suns tied that unfortunate mark last season, also finishing ninth in the conference).

At this point, the Warriors can do nothing other than stay as healthy as possible while making sure they’re playing at a high enough level to beat anybody, anywhere. Easier said than done—having to get through the Thunder, Spurs and Grizzlies to get to the Finals would be insanely difficult, for example. The Warriors are capable of beating any team, and they’d take their chances with home-court throughout the playoffs since their building gets so loud, but they’d have a better chance of winning their first title in 40 years if the conferences were a bit more balanced.

#3) What is the best strategy for beating Golden State? They do not lose very often, but is there a common denominator in their losses? An Achilles’ heel?

@BASportsGuyIt helps to avoid Curry and Andrew Bogut, as they lost the first game Curry missed this season and they’re only 9-5 when Bogut sits (meaning the Warriors are 34-5 when their center is available).

When the Warriors are at full strength, and hitting their 3s, they’re just about unbeatable. If they’re a little off from the perimeter, a team can prevail if they limit their turnovers and test Golden State’s patience. Getting Bogut into foul trouble and forcing Curry to do everything himself on the offensive end helps as well. Teams often try to pressure and trap Curry, with mixed results. 

#4) Draymond Green was very effective in a reserve role last season, but this year has been his national coming out party as a starter. Why is Green so important to the Warriors’ success and how much would you pay to keep him as a restricted free agent?

@BASportsGuyI’d pay whatever it takes, and that number obviously depends on what the market will bear. Green’s offensive game doesn’t exactly scream “max player,” but he provides a combination of defense, rebounding and toughness that no Warrior can match when Bogut isn’t on the floor.

His hands are incredibly strong, which allows him to rip the ball away from opposing players on a regular basis. He’s an outstanding shot-blocker for a guy his height (6-foot-7). His defensive instincts are phenomenal, especially late in games—he seems to know what a guy will do before that player has even decided his next move. He’s an agitator, a yeller, and he plays with an edge. Curry and Klay Thompson are extremely competitive, but in a quieter way. Green is the embodiment of the new, brash, defense-first Warriors (which is pretty much the opposite of the Warriors we saw in the 30 years or so before he arrived).

#5) What is your prediction for the game tonight?

@BASportsGuyBad news for the Wizards: Golden State will come in with some motivation after Sunday’s loss, plus Curry and Thompson take those “best backcourt in the NBA” debates seriously (that point is moot if Bradley Beal doesn’t play, of course).

Good news for the Wizards: The Warriors have looked a little off in their last five road games against Eastern Conference teams, and they’ve lost two games in a row a couple times this season. That doesn’t seem like a lot—but with a total of just 10 defeats, those two-game losing skids are noticeable.

If Curry plays (and I think he will), I don’t see the Warriors losing to a Washington squad that hasn’t beaten a winning team in five weeks. But it could be fairly close, based on the Warriors’ recent performances on the other side of the nation.

 

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.