Key Legislature: Wizards 91 vs Rockets 99 — Sunday Numbday | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 91 vs Rockets 99 — Sunday Numbday

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Updated: March 29, 2015

Truth About It.net’s Key Legislature: a quick run-down and the game’s defining moment(s)
for Washington Wizards contest No. 74 versus the Rockets in D.C.
via Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks), covering it live from the Phone Booth.

DC Council Key Legislature

by Conor Dirks.

“All that’s over now, and you gotta move on.”

As Trevor Ariza, with just a hint of melancholy, reflected on the familiar faces, and the two years he spent in D.C. “trying to get better,” the Rockets locker room buzzed with laughter and the kind of conversations impossible to have after a loss. Sitting in Ariza’s locker was a bouquet of flowers, a blown-up black-and-white photo of Ariza in a Wizards uniform driving past LeBron James, and a note that said “Welcome back, WORK.” And while Ariza came out jittery, turning the ball over four times in the first quarter, he looked at home again as the Rockets swung the ball around to him in the second half, giving him enough space to rise up for a back-breaking 3-pointer that dashed a Wizards run against the rocks of reality like a bottle of MD 20/20 you might drink on the latest rough night of many.

Business is business, as Wizards radio maestro Glenn Consor alluded to on Twitter, but no amount of potentially smart, future-based planning makes up for Ariza’s absence this season. Especially with an obviously exhausted and possibly “over it” Paul Pierce recording his sixth straight single-digit performance (2 points), throwing thoughtless passes into the arms of Rockets defenders, missing four uncontested shots (1-for-6 overall) and looking like he has less lift to his jump shot than a jetpack constructed with Play-Doh and Mountain Dew. Pierce only played 22 minutes and was nowhere to be seen in the fourth quarter.

As in innumerable games this season, the matinee against the Rockets was a bad John Wall (25 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds) performance away from being a blowout. He’s always been the best player on the team, but his excellent play—even with a skyrocketing turnover rate as the offense folds in on itself like a collapsing wormhole—is more of a crutch than ever. Let not the “effort” sermon fall upon Wall, who grabbed four steals, scored a team-high nine points off of Rockets turnovers, and once slid full speed across the painted area like a curling stone for a loose ball, assisting Otto Porter’s layup in the process.

Meanwhile, Bradley Beal (15 points in 38 minutes) played like the poor midrange shooter that he has become under Wittman’s direction, missing all four shots that weren’t 3-pointers or shots at the rim. He went 3-for-3 at the rim, and 1-for-4 from behind the arc, but the shot chart doesn’t tell the whole story. Beal’s game, more than his preferred shot, has strayed farther from his strengths as the season has worn on. Increasingly, he spends possessions handling the ball inside the arc, dribbling, looking, searching for an opening to pull up for a jumper. The curls and screens with Nene and Gortat are cute, but they’re ineffective, and always designed to free Beal up from 15-to-19 feet out, where he shoots just 33.1 percent. Claiming that making Beal more of a 3-point specialist would limit him is silly if this is the alternative.

You start with your strength. I look forward to the day when Beal, having become one of the most prolific (rather than just one of the most accurate) 3-point shooters in the NBA, expands his game. Of course, being a real, everyday threat to bury the deep ball helps open up the midrange area, just as it opens up lanes to the hoop after a convincing fake. As of today, Beal, a 42 percent 3-point shooter (49.6% at home), only takes half the 3-point attempts per 36 minutes as the likes of 3-point elite like Klay Thompson. The Wizards, as a team, don’t take many 3-point shots, and may not have the roster to support a high attempt amount, but even their shooters don’t shoot. It’s just not Wizards basketball.

And what is Wizards basketball? In 2015, it’s not worth emulating. Since the advent of the New Year, Washington is the ninth-worst team in the league. And although the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference is almost guaranteed, it’s not guaranteed to mean much. With how much Wall has improved this season, and a 19-6 start, disappointment, rather than last season’s joy, reigns as the losses stack like pizza boxes with “DNP-CD” written on the side in Otto Porter’s apartment.

The team is bad, sure, but they’re also confused. After months of talking about defensive intensity and effort instead of focusing on fixing a very much broken offensive game plan, it may be too late to set things right. It shows in games like Sunday’s national television game versus Houston, where the defense held firm, and “limited” James Harden to 24 points on 20 shots. After the game, in a rare critical reprieve for the team’s excellent, fourth-ranked defense, Wittman told the media:

“Defensively, we were pretty solid. I think the way they came out, we really had an opportunity to jump on them. We just couldn’t get into any rhythm offensively. Our focus offensively, we were running things that I had never seen before. We weren’t focused in what we needed to do from an offensive standpoint.”

If the Wizards forgot plays that were called, as both Wittman and Wall mentioned after the game, or ran plays that the coach had never seen before, it may be due to the lack of stability in the team’s ever-changing rotations. Players sometimes appreciate a coach’s willingness to mine the bench for contributors and knock those players together to see what sparks, but after over 70 games, a rotation that isn’t pinned down is more of a hindrance than a boon.

Martell Webster (who racked up a team-high, awful 131.3 DefRtg in this game) was left to guard Harden on a critical late-quarter possessions. Rasual Butler (13 minutes) whiled away the time he had on the floor, accumulating a NetRtg of minus-19.5. Of the team’s many underachieving wings, only Otto Porter, who has barely played in weeks, made a positive impact, scoring 15 points in 17 minutes, and hitting twice as many 3-pointers as the rest of the team combined. True to form, Wittman “let him ride it out” once it was apparent that Porter was having an impact. It’s a kindness, but it’s far less useful than developing a sustainable rotation. Three Wizards saw fewer than nine minutes of court time, while no Rocket player who took the court played less than sixteen minutes. For the Wizards, there is no familiarity, there is no routine.

And, really, the offense did not look any worse than usual. The Wizards missed a few more shots, but the process was the same. Working twice as hard for half as much, Washington took the first open shot they could find rather than look for better (and yes, more “efficient”) takes further into the possession. Despite a minutes-limit on Dwight Howard and injuries to Patrick Beverly, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Montiejunas, the Wizards were never really in the game. A 17-7 run led by Wall, Sessions, and Porter spanning the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth brought the Wizards within four points with just over 10 minutes left in the game. An Otto Porter 3-pointer with 8:42 remaining brought them that close again, but Pablo Prigioni (!) answered Otto’s 3-pointer with one of his own as Porter sagged off. A 14-2 Rockets run over the next three minutes put the already somnambulistic Wizards back to bed.

In 2015, the Wizards are 6-16 against teams over .500. Just days before the regular season’s final month, the team looks as inconsistent as they were last year, and worse than they did in the first week of this season(1). Troubling, perhaps, given how many old legs hold up Grunfeld’s investment in veteran leadership.

Move on to the next game, then, but know that these losses, suffered in such cruel succession, mean more today than whatever far-from-reality record the team might still hold.

 

  1. Last season, a just-above-.500 Wizards team went 8-9 in January, 8-5 in February, 8-8 in March, and closed the season 6-2 in April. This season, the Wizards went 9-8 in January, 3-9 in February, and 7-7 in March, with April yet to come.
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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.