Opening Statements: Wizards at Sixers, Game 78 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards at Sixers, Game 78

Updated: April 8, 2015

Washington Wizards vs Philadelphia 76ers

For the very first time since January 7, 2013, John Wall will miss a game. After expressing that he felt more worn down at this point in the season than he did at the same time last season, Wall will get a deserved break to rest the vast accumulation of minor somatic ailments that eventually befall almost every high-usage player who plays so many consecutive NBA games. Meanwhile, Paul Pierce will be a game-time decision (via the Washington Post‘s Jorge Castillo). Nene, who didn’t go through shootaround, is more likely to join Wall on the bench than he is to join Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, and Washington’s skeleton crew against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Wall’s absence will remove Washington from an interesting triad (Wizards, Clippers and Pistons) of teams who have had multiple players start every game this season. The Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul have started every game this season, as have the Pistons’ Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. For the Wizards, Wall and Gortat have been remarkably sturdy, taking the court day in and day out during an overly long and presumably arduous campaign.

Although the Sixers were mocked mercilessly by the Comcast post-game crew after the Wizards beat up on them last week, most everyone else will remember that these same 76ers beat the Wizards in Philly on February 27, at what may have been the nadir of a confusing, successful/unsuccessful season. A season which could still, due in large part to a historically strong 19-6 start, end with the Washington Wizards as the third seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

So, then, why is Wall resting with so much at stake?

Because there’s not that much at stake.

The Wizards are only one game behind the Raptors, who have crashed back down to earth with the same terminal velocity (1) as the Wizards during 2015. However, not only do the Raptors hold the tiebreaker over the Wizards (via their 3-0 record vs. Washington), they also cannot be seeded lower than fourth (since they locked up the Atlantic Division long ago). And so, even if Washington manages to pass the Raptors (who boast a relatively easy schedule of Charlotte, Orlando, Miami, Boston, Charlotte to close the season), they would also have to leapfrog the Bulls in order to actually effect a change in the seeding. While the Wizards, even if they are seeded fifth, could gain home-court advantage over the fourth-seeded Raptors, not much else would change.

Unless, of course, the Bulls go 2-3 in the final five games and the Wizards go 5-0 while the Raptors win three games or fewer of their final five. It’s possible! But the Bulls, who have every reason to want to avoid the Wizards (see last year’s playoffs) and face the reeling Bucks instead, would have to fall apart at the seams in order to go 2-3 in the last five games versus Orlando, Miami, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and what will probably be a bench-only Atlanta squad in the final game.

And so, you see, John Wall being healthy for what is an almost inevitable matchup against Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors is far more important than him leaving it all out there on the floor with maximum #EffortMetrics in these final five games against Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Indiana, and Cleveland. Home-court matters, but having the best player on the floor as healthy as he can be matters more.

In a season of expectations met but not exceeded, things can still change up until the point at which the Wizards are eliminated from the playoffs. Last season, we saw this play out. Before the playoffs, there was a sense that the Wizards could have accomplished more, given a strong starting lineup and an All-Star season from Wall, than they eventually did during a regular season in which they fought for months to get over .500. I wrote this during the final games:

“It comes down to expectations. People don’t draw joy from basketball, from competition, in the same way an unrepentant completionist takes satisfaction from checking a necessary goal off of a reasonable checklist. Joy, pain and, to a similar extent, interest, are all generated by teams that brazenly disregard goals on their way to the sublime or into the abyss.

“While other teams have adjusted and outstripped their initial expectations, the Wizards have done little more than meet them. Gifted every opportunity for success, the team has found unique ways to instead orbit mediocrity.”

With five games to go, the Wizards have matched last season’s win total, and yet there lingers a thought, creeping and increasingly bulbous, that the Wizards have only improved in the sense that John Wall has improved individually, staying afloat in lean times because Randy Wittman has been able to pasteurize Paul Pierce and the milk of the team’s wing defense into an edible cheese. The team’s offense looks as uninspired as it did in training camp in 2013. The defense, Wittman’s baby, is strong and admirable again, even after losing its best piece, Trevor Ariza, to free agency. These are the Wizards, for now.

The playoffs, much like they did last season, could change the conversation. Less than a month after I wrote the above-quoted paragraphs, the Wizards had closed the season on a winning streak, snatched the fifth seed instead of dropping to the seventh seed, and beat the Bulls in a first-round series before taking the 1-seed Pacers to six games. I had to take my shirt to the tailor to repair the collar.

Expectations this season were higher, with good reason. A playoff series win against the Raptors or Bulls would be welcome, but without a competitive second round, the Wizards will be treading water in a league of limited pool time. A first-round exit against Toronto … well, let’s cross that bridge if we have to cross it and avoid it until then because I heard it’s not nice there and that there may in fact be trolls which someone should look into probably.

Joining me today is my friend Alex MacMullan (@AMacMull) of ESPN Truehoop’s Sixers blog Hoop76. Let’s get it.

Teams: Wizards at Sixers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 7.5 points (or 4.5 without Wall)

#1) Although the race for Rookie of the Year has been more democratic of late, Nerlens Noel still seems to be a bit behind Andrew Wiggins in terms of meaningful discussion..

What’s the case for Noel pulling a Blake Griffin and snagging a delayed and deserved ROY? 

@AMacMull: The case is stronger than the possibility that it actually happens. The consensus seems to be that Andrew Wiggins is taking it home. The ironic thing here is that I have to believe Michael Carter-Williams winning last year is a factor in Nerlens not getting the benefit of the doubt. Haters aren’t going to stand for 76ers grabbing ROY two years in a row, especially when MCW’s case for the award last year was due in large part to compiling ‘counting stats’ on a very bad team. But really, isn’t Wiggins the one compiling those counting stats this year? Nerlens is ninth in the league in steals and sixth in the league in blocks. That is special and rare. More special and rare than Wiggins’ 16.4 points per game on 43.6 percent shooting. If voters value defense and rim protection and a rookie that is doing something truly extraordinary, then Noel should win.

#2) It is pretty amazing that, given how badly the Sixers were being beaten up early in the year, including a 17-game losing streak, this team has now won 18 games.

That’s more wins than either the Knicks or Timberwolves, and neither of those teams have been put on trial to the extent that the Sixers have. What’s been the catalyst for the relative turnaround?

@AMacMull: It’s interesting. I do think there has been a lot of improvement from individuals over the course of the year, but the winning percentage has actually been pretty steady around 30 percent after the 0-17 start in October and November. As for the individual progress—without entering the Wittman #EffortZone here—for guys like Nerlens, Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, etc., the improvement is the product of a season of hard work paying off. And for all the talk of GM Sam Hinkie’s willingness to move everyone, the organization is also legitimately committed to developing everyone while they are in Philly.

#3) What’s the post-mortem on the MCW trade?

For the Bucks, it’s been an interesting ride, and one I’m not convinced they meant to take (by which I mean I’m not sure whether they meant for this to improve the team this year or in the future). How has the trade played in Philly? And was it a good one?

@AMacMull: The city was divided when it happened: the people who mostly just check in with the team every once in a while to say something uninformed and shitty about Hinkie and the organization railed against it and then went back to talking about the Eagles. The people who have paid attention to what the organization is trying to do and to MCW’s shooting issues were maybe surprised it happened when it did but ultimately very happy with the return. The chances that Lakers pick eventually falls in the top 8 or so are high and there’s no way that MCW would have been worth that, as he neared the end of his rookie deal.

#4) Although the personnel is lacking and the offense has been largely ineffective, the Sixers commitment to Moreyball (i.e., the amount of shots that are either 3-pointers or at the rim) has held.

The Morey/Hinkie connection is an obvious one, and there seems to be some genuine carryover in terms of operations as well as on the court. Do you have any sense how much influence Head Coach Brett Brown has when making coaching and instructional decisions with his players, or is his job to execute within the framework that Hinkie and the owners have laid out?

@AMacMullI can’t say I truly know the answer to this. But my sense is that Brown is the driving force behind instructional and coaching decisions with his players. He calls all the shots on the floor, but he always keeps an open mind and is willing to listen to ideas that come from the front office. He and Hinkie seem to have a very collaborative relationship and Brown confirmed as much recently when he sat down on the “Rights to Ricky Sanchez” podcast with Mike Levin and Spike Eskin. For what it’s worth, I do think you’ll see the roster begin to fit that Moreyball framework as the organization solidifies its core. The MCW trade may have been the beginning of this.

  1. Well, actually, all terminal velocities are in some sense the same since no further acceleration is possible, via this equation: V = sqrt ( (2 * W) / (Cd * r * A)
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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.