Opening Statements: Wizards vs 76ers, Game 75 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs 76ers, Game 75

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Updated: April 1, 2015

Washington Wizards vs Philadelphia 76ers


Teams: Wizards vs. 76ers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN+
Radio: WNEW 99.1 FM / WFED 1500 AM
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 10.5


Last year around this time, the Washington Wizards were feeling especially ecstatic because they clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. They achieved this milestone by defeating the Boston Celtics at the Verizon Center in blowout fashion. After that game, Head Coach Randy Wittman remarked that he felt like he had been with the Wizards for 20 years, John Wall stressed that the Wizards had to keep playing good basketball, and Marcin Gortat observed that it was just a simple win and there was more work to be done. The Monumental Network staff even had an impressive ‘we’ve made the playoffs’ graphic that was displayed on the Verizon Center big board:

[via instagram.com/truthaboutit]

Fast forward a year. The Wizards are once again returning to the playoffs, thanks to a loss by the Boston Celtics, but the circumstances are markedly different. The Wizards were unable to clinch a playoff berth with a victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday, but they clinched a spot on a Monday night off (by way of the Charlotte Hornets beating the Boston Celtics). There were no visible celebrations, no fanfare, just Twitter statements and few quotes after Tuesday’s practice:

“Just to be in the playoffs is not enough. What does it mean, playoffs? It’s a new season. Harder than the regular season. You need to play really hard, focused and play smart.” —Nene

“We clinched a spot. I’ve told them we got that goal out of the way. Now I want these last eight games, let’s improve each day. … Is it going to be good enough to clinch a [4-seed]? Don’t know. Can’t answer that question. I’m not worried about that. Let’s focus on getting better each of these last eight games.” —Randy Wittman

The contrasting reactions to making the playoffs are telling. The 2013-14 Wizards clinched despite playing mediocre basketball. From March 1st through April 1st of last year, they never won or lost more than two consecutive games, but they bookended that inconsistent play with a six-game winning streak in February and a four-game winning streak to end the regular season. The Wizards’ statistics since January of 2015 aren’t inconsistent, they are just the mark of bad, struggling, worn-out team—a point Washington Post writer Michael Lee slammed home in this damning article.

The Wizards have lost 18 of the last 28 games, they’ve gone 6-22 against winning teams, they have a 19-25 record this calendar year (good for ninth-worst in the NBA), and they are 3-10 against Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago and Toronto—the four teams ahead of them in the standings. The low point of the year seemingly came at the end of February, when the Wiz lost consecutive games against the lowly 76ers and the Timberwolves.

But it gets worse.

Coach Wittman has complained about the lack of consistent defensive efforts during this calendar year, but after Sunday’s loss to the Rockets, both Wittman and Wall were particularly annoyed at the lapses on offense. Wittman said the Wizards were running plays he had “never seen before” and Wall was upset that teammates did not know the plays coming out of a timeout. When you throw in Marcin Gortat’s “no comment” when asked what could be improved, and the lack of on-court leadership from the most decorated player on the roster (Paul Pierce), you have a dysfunctional playoff team that could very well be headed towards an unceremonious first-round exit.

Adding more harm to all this hurt were Houston Rockets Coach Kevin McHale’s glowing comments about the offensive and defensive prowess of a former Wizards player who was so instrumental in last year’s playoff run—Mr. Trevor Ariza.

“He guards 1 through 4 for us, we’ve put him on different guys, play him in different situations, we just rely on Trevor to do a lot of stuff for us,” said McHale. “He’s bailed us out of many, many games with big shots, great stops, going small and putting him on a 4 that you wouldn’t think he’d be able to guard—like the Anthony Davises of the world—and he goes out there and does a really good job.”

But enough of the sky-is-falling mentality, because, as TAI writer Adam Rubin points out, the eulogy should be saved for the funeral, not everything preceding it. Wall is playing at an All-Star level, Kris Humphries appears to be on the verge of returning to the court, and, most importantly, the Philadelphia 76ers—owners of the third-worst record in the NBA—are in town.

After practice on Tuesday, Nene mentioned to media that he and his teammates need to play angry for the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs, and there are plenty of reasons for that initial anger to be directed at the Sixers.

Back on Feb. 27, when Washington went to Philadelphia, the Wizards started slowly in the first quarter, fought back to the lead in the second, and kept it close until the fourth quarter when Nerlens Noel scored nine of his 13 points to lead the Sixers to an 89-81 win. Bradley Beal (leg) and Paul Pierce (knee) did not play, but as has been the case recently, John Wall did not get enough help from the teammates who were on the floor with him. Otto Porter started and scored 19 points and Ramon Sessions scored 14 points in 21 minutes off the bench. But the man who is requesting more anger had just six points and five rebounds in 20 minutes, while Marcin Gortat rebounded like a beast (14) but scored just eight points in 35 minutes. Both men went scoreless in the fourth quarter, while Noel went crazy.

The Sixers have won just five games since defeating the Wizards that night, but as Isiah Thomas observed on NBA TV Sunday night, Coach Brett Brown has his team playing hard. They are coming off back-to-back losses, but one was by a single point defeat in Cleveland against a healthy Cavaliers team, and the next night they lost by two in overtime against the Los Angeles Lakers. They’ve been led by Nerlens Noel. He’s averaging 16.3 and 10.3 rebounds his last 10 games and, for the season, he’s fifth in the league in blocks and ninth in the league in steals.

Wednesday’s game against the Sixers kicks off a five-game stretch, which should be a God-send for a Wizards team that struggles against winning teams. After the Sixers tonight, Washington plays the New York Knicks, the Memphis Grizzlies (the only team of the five with a winning record), the Sixers again, and then the Brooklyn Nets. If the Wizards can win at least four of those games, and pepper in some inspired offensive and defensive efforts, that could quiet the deafening criticism coming from everyone, including the owner. Three or fewer wins against teams they should definitely defeat just means that the funeral is coming quickly.

Lest we forget:

 

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.