Opening Statements: Rd. 2, Gm. 6 — End of the Beginning or Beginning of the End? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Rd. 2, Gm. 6 — End of the Beginning or Beginning of the End?

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Updated: May 15, 2015

 

Down 3-2 in their series versus the Atlanta Hawks, the Wizards are looking down the barrel of the end of their season and all the uncomfortable questions that are raised when you are forced to pack up your bags for the last time, put on your fancy suit, and exit the bowels of the Phone Booth onto the chaos of F Street.

Washington would desperately like to put off these questions for at least another evening. Frustratingly, there has to be a belief that the Wizards should not even be in this situation. Even without John Wall, the Wizards were competitive. With him, they’ve often appeared to be the better team, and with exception of one poor Nene rebound, it would be the Hawks staring into the heat and glare of a long hot summer. If the Wizards have done all they could to win the series then under the most dire of circumstances (the absence of Wall, the fossilization of Nene) then what possible changes could Coach Randy Wittman introduce to in Game 6 that would shift his team toward a win and an elusive Game 7?

One is loathe to think that the majority of conversation both in the locker room as well as on the practice floor will center around #EffortTalk, but there has to be an uncertainty as to the particulars of how the Wizards will play 48 minutes of basketball without lapsing into the poor habits that derailed them in Game 5. But then, what can one expect of a team that started playing an entirely new brand of basketball only a month ago? Five months spent in a torrid love affair with the 17-footer doesn’t disappear overnight. There are still the late night texts, the furtive phone calls, or in the case of Wednesday night, the reappearance outside your apartment at 2 am screaming, “Why don’t you love me anymore?!” For what possibly may be the last night of the 2014-15 season, the Wizards need to hit call block on their old beau of an offensive system and commit fully to the belle that brought them to the second round.

For now, let’s look at the questions the Wizards hope to avoid answering tonight and then the keys to avoiding an uncertain future.

The dreaded questions:

  1. Is Randy Wittman viable? This would have been a question up until the Raptors series but Wittman has solidified his job for another year (Ted Leonsis hates buyouts) by tacking hard in another direction and remaking the Wizards offensively over the course of the last month. The real question is whether Wittman is a positive or negative in recruiting free agents, especially the great white whale that is Kevin Durant. Shifting the offense to be more open may appeal to possible FA’s, but there isn’t enough track record to demonstrate that the Wizards will stick to the model.
  2. Does Paul Pierce stay? The Player Option that Paul Piece holds in his hands looks more appealing based on his offseason heroics, but also is a bit of a poison pill (albeit just $5.5 million). Pierce disappeared for large parts of the spring and Otto Porter’s sudden emergence leads one to question whether Pierce has already played his part in the development of the franchise and needs to step aside to allow for its continued evolution.
  3. Whither Nene? Every offseason Nene will sit encased in ice and posit whether this will indeed be his last season due to the strain of playing in the post. In the past, a sudden Nene retirement would send terrors throughout Wizards fandom. Now one has to wonder if that would be a boon towards roster flexibility. No, he won’t give up being paid $13 million next season, the final year of his contract, but with this knowledge, will he still not touch a basketball for the entire summer as usual? Not even free throw practice?
  4. Can Ernie draft? It’s the eternal question. It’s also central to how the Wizards decide to construct their roster this summer.

How to avoid these questions:

  1. Nene has to summon it one last time (and Gilbert Arenas agrees). Nene was absolutely obliterated by Al Horford in Game 5, and no one can be sure if it’s the minutes logged during the series or whether his cumulative odometer just has too many miles. Regardless, Randy Wittman cannot afford to be stubborn if Nene appears to lag. Though he has kept his bench short for the entirety of the series, Wittman should be preparing Kris Humphries or Kevin Seraphin for emergency action this evening.
  2. The Wizards cannot devolve. Easy to say and harder to do, the Wizards cannot have another prolonged period of play like those crucial four minutes in the fourth quarter of Game 5 where they reverted back to the dog days of February. At the first sign of a John Wall forced 3-pointer at the top of they key or a Beal 17-footer, Wittman needs to call a timeout to calm his wayward charges.

The elixir to win Game 6 appears simple: stick to what brought you success, but the problem with ingrained habits is just that—they are ingrained. To avoid the pressing questions of the future the Wizards need to live completely in the present and avoid leaning on the teachings of the past.

 

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Sean Fagan
Reporter / Writer/Gadfly at TAI
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Sean has contributed to TAI since the the dawn of Jan Vesely and has been on the Wizards beat since 2008. His work has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo and SI.com. He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.