Key Legislature: Wizards 105 vs Blazers 97 — Know Thyself, Silly Wizards | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 105 vs Blazers 97 — Know Thyself, Silly Wizards

By
Updated: March 17, 2015

Truth About It.net’s Key Legislature: a quick run-down and the game’s defining moment(s)
for Washington Wizards contest No. 67 versus the Portland Trail Blazers in Washington.
via Chris Thompson (@MadBastardsAll) from the Verizon Center.

DC Council Key Legislature

by Chris Thompson.

In some ways—in many ways—this was a very typical Washington Wizards game. They’ve had a hell of a time putting together two halves of good basketball in the same game of late, and Monday night’s tilt with Portland took that same basic shape. It’s reached the point, now, where it feels silly to get particularly worked up about it. There’s a pattern to it, after all—if a pattern alternates ones and zeroes for a thousand digits, you’ve got to be a bit of a jerk to get angry when that 1,001st isn’t followed by a two, know what I mean?

Maybe this is true, maybe it’s foggy recollection, maybe it’s that particular drunk-happy feeling that follows a significant win, maybe it’s leftover dizziness from standing mere feet from a hungry and half-nude Chris Kaman… But it seems like a big difference from the Wizards’ early-season run of success and their more recent slide into frustrating mediocrity isn’t that this kind of bipolar performance never used to happen, but rather that the Wizards generally found a way to win even when it did. After all, the Wizards have only ever had a relatively narrow Net Rating, and their traditional plus/minus has been even tighter.

I guess what I’m saying is this: if you were looking for a return to form for this Wizards team, this might have been it—18 minutes of worrying, sketchy-as-hell play stuffed awkwardly amid 30 minutes of assertive, confident, occasionally spectacular, and reliably winning-ish basketball. It beats the alternative.

So maybe the tendency towards peaks and valleys in their play is less a recent trend than it is a trait. What’s important is that it’s a non-fatal one, in particular as long as the Wizards are ready to cast off another glaring habit of their recent slide: the nagging inability to wring competent performances from more than a small handful of players on a given night. Sometimes this has taken the form of weirdly invisible nights from key players, and other times it has been horrifying, calamitous, damn-near-treasonous incompetence from whole entire lineups.

In order to regain the ability to beat good teams—hell, in order to beat any teams, as we should have all learned in humiliating losses to the ‘Wolves and Sixers—this nagging, persistent failure has to have been a trend, a phase, a feature of their recent swoon and nothing else. Monday night’s win provided some evidence of exactly that, and that was perhaps the most encouraging part of the entire affair. When the game was on the line the usual suspects took control, but, importantly, no Wizards player who took the floor undermined the team. That’s a change from recent form, sorry to say, but a welcome one.

The positive contributions took many shapes: Drew Gooden spaced the floor, poured in some long 2s, and slid to the corner for an important 3-pointer; Ramon Sessions forced his way into the paint and generated free throws without turning the ball over even once in his 16 minutes; Kevin Seraphin managed to not burn the building to the ground during six minutes of fairly dicey play; and Rasual Butler gathered a drop-off pass from Sessions, loped into the lane, and hammered home a savage dunk over Dorell Wright. It seems like such a simple, unimpressive accomplishment, but here it is: no one played poorly. Even when the Blazers made their run, it seemed less a product of Washington cratering and more an annoying team-wide offensive funk, influenced at least in part by a deep and dangerous Portland team finally finding the bottom of the net. It was bound to happen. As acquainted as Wizards fans are with their team and its persistent bad habits, it’s important to remember that some opponents are just as consistently inconsistent.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 1.56.57 PM

In the first half, aggressive transition offense helped push the Wizards to a 20-point halftime lead. Importantly, and reassuringly, the Wizards largely played each other into areas of strength on offense, rather than settling for, well, what the defense gave them. Midrange shots were generally taken by guys, like Gooden and Nene, for whom the midrange is a credible area of offense, while John Wall and Bradley Beal attacked via areas of greater efficiency. Between the two of them, the House of Guards took just four midrange jumpers in the first half, while going 2-of-3 from beyond the arc and 5-of-8 from inside the paint. This didn’t necessarily hail a team-wide reshuffling of offensive priorities—the Wizards attempted just six first-half 3-pointers, and a mere 12 in the game—but, whether by design or circumstance, this slight deviation from the norm put the Blazers on their heels.

A 60-point half against the Blazers (7th in the NBA in Defensive Rating) is no small accomplishment, but it was Washington’s sharp, organized, aggressive defense that accounted for much of the first half margin. At the eight-minute mark of the third quarter the Blazers—owners of the NBA’s eigth-most efficient offense—had just 46 points on 35 percent shooting, and were a miserable 2-of-14 from beyond the arc. Moments later, Marcin Gortat swatted some poor fool at the rim before Paul Pierce gathered the loose ball and fired a Payton Manning-esque back-shoulder outlet pass to a streaking Nene, who took it the rest of the way for a jam that sent the crowd into hysterics. With 19 minutes of game time left, the Wizards had a 25-point lead, a euphoric home crowd, and all of whatever we mean when we refer to momentum in an NBA basketball game.

They were also still, and only, the Wizards. Only the fools among us ever stopped fidgeting.

What followed from there were 15 minutes of frustration, as the Wizards determinedly and systematically eliminated all efficiency from their own offense, alternating possessions between stagnant Nene post-up possessions and horrible, eyeball-searing, woefully ill-advised pull-up jumpers from Wall and Beal, as if Coach Randy Wittman caught sight of a shot chart during the Blazers timeout immediately after the Nene slam, recoiled in horror, and ordered an immediate reversion to the ghastly lynch-pins of their dependably anemic offense. Too many good shots, guys! What have I told you about working for good shots when the defense is giving away bad ones? 

From the 7:45 mark of the third quarter until the four-minute mark of the fourth, the Wizards took 14 midrange shots against just six at the rim and three from outside the 3-point arc. It’s no coincidence at all that the Blazers went on a 42-21 run during this stretch.

Rather than get upset about it, though, the thing to do was take a nice deep breath and remind yourself that this is what they do. We’d all had 66 games this season to let it sink in, there’s no sense at all in letting it bother you now. Besides, what matters, here, is that they found a way, in the end, to emerge with an important win. With two minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Wizards clumsily clinging to a six-point lead, Wall pinned a Damian Lillard layup against the glass, snagged the subsequent defensive rebound after a LaMarcus Aldridge miss, drove the length of the floor at a dead sprint, sucked in the defense, and found Paul Pierce in the corner for a wide-open, back-breaking 3-pointer. The crowd went absolutely bananas, and Terry Stotts, convinced the block had in fact been a goaltend, earned himself a technical foul. That was pretty much that.

And that’s maybe the difference between a winning Wizards team, brimming with confidence, and a sad-sack middling Wizards team, narrowly scraping by the dregs of their conference by an unlikely preponderance of made bad shots, and getting shellacked by anyone with a pulse. It’s not that they play 48 minutes of high-level NBA basketball so much as it is that they start out on the front foot and put themselves in position to benefit from a huge John Wall play, or a timely Bradley Beal 3-pointer, or a bruising Nene layup in traffic, or Paul Pierce, you know, playing to the refs. That was the script Monday night, anyway: they stopped being their worst selves long enough to survive the inevitable regression, and the dependable heroics of their superstar did the rest. As models for success go, this one is sillier, hairier, and more likely to prematurely age spectators than many, but we’ve seen a hell of a lot worse.

Chris Thompson