Opening Statements: Wizards vs Pacers, Game 72 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Pacers, Game 72

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Updated: March 25, 2015

Washington Wizards vs Indiana Pacers

By now you’ve probably heard or read what Randy Wittman had to say after Washington’s massively disheartening loss in Sacramento on Sunday, when he finally took off the mask and revealed himself to be, at base, an insane person. The gist of what he said—because the experience of reading it a second time will be actually physically traumatic—was that the concern … the mere suggestion that Washington’s established, observable, and undisputed offensive ineptitude plays any role in their ongoing dismal swoon is so wrong-headed as to be actually contemptible. That virtually any time spent worrying about the part of the game of basketball (where points are accumulated by throwing a ball through a basket) in which his team tries to throw the ball through the basket is, in fact, time wasted.

It’s tough to read this any other way. Washington’s defense is, by most measures, among the best in all of basketball (1). This level of success speaks well of Coach Wittman’s defensive schemes, of course. Coach Wittman’s complaint seems to center around the idea that his players are devoting too much attention to what happens on offense, but that is manifestly not the case: they are devoting enough attention on the defensive end to consistently put themselves in position to win. That is as much attention as should be paid at that or any other task, by definition. Forget diminishing marginal returns—the person who doubles down on effort at a task at which adequate progress towards an ultimate goal is already consistently achieved is a fool.

Let this sink in: The Wizards are never—never never never—going to achieve a defense that can consistently make up for the fact that their offense is trash, and, to the extent that effort towards such a goal detracts (as Wittman’s statements imply) from effort at making progress on offense, such effort can only be in service of sabotage.

Monday’s game at Golden State served as sort of a handy reminder of the absolute futility of trying to crack the game of basketball without devoting adequate attention to developing a credible offense. That’s an important word: “adequate.” It implies nothing more than that the attention be sufficient to achieve a desired outcome, and no more. Because the Wizards offense—if not also their roster and brain trust—is clearly broken (2), it cannot be said with even a modicum of sincere belief that adequate attention is being paid to that end.

Against the Warriors—who display a kind of freedom and aggression and belief that flows from both their abilities and the basic and practical coherence of how they are coached to play—the Wizards paid dearly for having no better ideas on the offensive end than taking whatever scraps the NBA’s best defense happened to leave available. When the Warriors were sloppy and unfocused, hearty chunks shook loose for the taking. As soon as they buckled down—the very moment the Warriors decided to stop giving things away—the Wizards lost the ability to even compete, to even pretend to compete.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened this season. For that matter, it isn’t the first or even second time it’s happened in the last 10 days. We’re all pretty used to it. What makes it especially galling, what amounts to the most striking and troubling takeaway from Monday night’s bloodbath, was a statement made by Warriors reserve Marreese Speights in the aftermath:

“We just turned [it] up a little. We knew if we hit them, if we got a couple stops, they would start arguing with each other and quit. We went out there with a good mind-set in the second half and we did it.”

It seems the rest of the NBA has caught on to a hard truth of this version of the Washington Wizards: it is possible to take away what they want to do on the offensive end to such a degree that the Wizards cannot and will not continue to compete.

Interestingly, this both aligns neatly with and rebukes Coach Wittman’s gripe: when the Warriors got serious about winning, they expressed that seriousness on the defensive end. They worried less about their offense than they did about stringing together stops, and it worked. On the other hand, his statements lay plain the level of dysfunction of Washington’s offense: a capable opponent can simply decide to take away their offense—not a facet of their offense, nor a single player, but their entire offense—and once that happens, the game is decided. The Warriors went into the locker room at halftime and decided to not let the Wizards score anymore, then came out in the third quarter and virtually erased Washington’s offense. They knew the Wizards would not and could not adjust, that all they are capable of doing is feeding on the defense’s scraps. The Wizards did not adjust, because they could not, because they cannot. That this is a thing that can and did happen in a contest between two professional basketball teams, and not, like, one professional team and one high school team, is profoundly disturbing.

After the game, Wittman spoke about his role in this tailspin:

“Like I said, we played a half of the way we wanted to play. I have to find the guys that are committed to do it for 48 now. That’s my job.”

Not surprisingly, nothing he said even nodded in the vague direction of the fundamental and fatal weakness in Washington’s whole basketball system, brutally and embarrassingly exposed by Speights’ comments. In talking about his job, in acknowledging his responsibility to put his team in position to win basketball games, he took a swipe at the effort and professionalism of his players. The team is incapable of playing 48 minutes of solid two-way basketball—on that we can all agree—and the extent of the coach’s responsibility is to exclude those players who can be blamed for this phenomenon. Nevermind that Wittman has had more than 70 games to find out which of his players are willing to grant him this nebulous effort-based boon.

Preaching accountability while being totally unwilling to accept any meaningful accountability for your own actions undermines credibility, like, a lot. If it seems like the Wizards are losing their edge, their confidence, their faith in one another, their common purpose; if it’s true that they’re bitching in timeouts and in the locker room about offensive touches; if their commitment is truly out of whack, maybe it’s time to consider whether these new dynamics flow from the experience of following a head coach who implicitly and constitutionally dismisses accountability. If players look to Wittman for direction, and all they see is a finger pointed back at them bereft of real solutions, there’s nowhere left to go but the wrong way.


Teams: Wizards vs Pacers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 3.5 points.


So, on to tonight’s home game against the Indiana Pacers. There’s maybe a single schedule win left among Washington’s remaining 11 games, if for no other reason than the Wizards are not now appreciably better than any team in basketball other than the poor, hapless Knicks, who they play one final time, on April 3. Having said that, Indiana is in a swoon of their own, having lost six straight to fall a game back of the Eastern Conference 8-seed. The Pacers are desperate: they’re in the middle of a closing stretch of the regular season in which all but two of their final 18 games are against teams still actively in the hunt for a playoff spot or a higher seed. They will absolutely not lay down tonight.

It’s too much and too late to hope that the Wizards will take seriously the obvious need to address their offense. The actual sets will make it terribly difficult for them to take and make the kinds of shots that lead to efficient offense, and so it will fall entirely upon the players to extract such chances from those ridiculous and tedious actions, through creativity, improvisation, and sheer competitive brilliance. Indiana’s top-10 defense will certainly not help anything—they’re not going to give away or otherwise freely yield the kinds of high-efficiency looks Washington’s offense is incapable of producing on its own.

The Warriors knew—they knew!—that the Wizards would fold as soon as the opposing defense stopped giving things away. According to their head coach’s philosophy, and as an actual ethic, the Wizards will not devote attention to making offensive adjustments. Whatever hope they have of winning tonight, or any other night, will come only from the degree to which the Wizards are able to squeeze drops of offense from their defense and benefit from charity. It will not make for beautiful basketball—tonight’s game will not be pretty. The Pacers are a bad offensive basketball team, suffering from a talent deficit that makes the Wizards, by comparison, look like an All-Star team. If you like bricks, this could be the game of your dreams.

The home stretch for the Wizards that starts tonight includes just one game (Sunday, versus Houston) against a team with a better record than Washington, and presents an opportunity to, if nothing else, recharge what has to be an enormous deficit in team-wide confidence and cohesion, the inevitable result of all the miserable basketball they’ve played since even before the All-Star break. It starts tonight, and Indiana will be a good test. Look for signs of quitting—beyond a certain point inflexibility becomes brittleness, and that’s what the Warriors identified Monday night. Indiana will be aiming at the same vulnerability, looking to knock the fight out of a team not just battling a committed opponent, but exhausted from battling their own baked-in futility. Is it even possible, any longer, to play 48 minutes of good basketball under such a burden? The team, its fans, and its coach are still searching for signs.

  1. The Wizards currently have a 100.3 DefRtg, according to NBA.com, tied with the San Antonio Spurs for fifth-best in the league.
  2. The Wizards are currently tied with the Kings with a 102.0 OffRtg, ranked 16th in the NBA. So, yes, clearly broken for a playoff team.
Chris Thompson