It’s The Defense, Stupid — Wizards vs Knicks, DC Council 3 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

It’s The Defense, Stupid — Wizards vs Knicks, DC Council 3

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Updated: November 1, 2015

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Knicks at Wizards, Game 3, Oct. 31, 2015 at the Verizon Center, via Rashad Mobley (@rashad20).

M.V.P.

John Wall certainly deserves an honorable mention in last night’s MVP discussion, because he was the only Wizards starter who matched Carmelo Anthony’s first quarter intensity. Wall repeatedly breezed by the Knicks’ Jose Calderon, he got to the basket with ease, his midrange game was on,  and he dove on the floor for the 50/50 balls. Defensively, he blocked two shots, and during three possessions he found himself on the wrong end of a switch and having to guard Kristaps Porzingis (who is literally a foot taller). The first two times he did enough to prevent the entry pass from being thrown and the third time, he stole the ball. By halftime Wall had 15 points (on 5-for-6 shooting), but he had just two assists, and the other four starters combined for 19 points on 5-for-21 shooting. Enter Bradley Beal.

In the third quarter, eight of Beal’s 11 points either tied the game or gave the Wizards the lead. He caught fire from the outside, and like a running back waiting for his offensive line to open up holes, Beal stayed on the perimeter until a crease opened, then converted. He was demonstrative with each made basket, he was chippy and physical with Sasha Vujacic, who dug deep in his irritant bag in an attempt to unnerve Beal. Wall may have kickstarted the Wizards in the first half, but Beal was both the emotional and on-the-court leader in the third quarter—even the Verizon Center crowd fed off of his play. He was visibly irritated when Randy Wittman Wittman took him out of the game with 3:22 left in the quarter—presumably because he had finally found his offensive rhythm. Wittman re-inserted Beal in the game with 33.5 seconds left, and Beal responded by hitting a 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left to give the Wizards a 90-87 lead entering the fourth.

Beal maintained his momentum in the final period, but unlike the previous night in Milwaukee, when there were late game contributions from Jared Dudley, Nene, Ramon Sessions, and even John Wall, he had no help. Beal scored 11 of the Wizards 20 fourth quarter points (matching Carmelo’s fourth quarter total), but his teammates shot just 2-for-12.

After the game, all Beal wanted to talk about was the Wizards’ lack of defense—justifiably so given that the Knicks scored 117 points. But the silver lining is that three games into this long season, which happens to be right in the middle of contract negotiations, Beal seems to have fully embraced the closer role vacated by Paul Pierce.

L.V.P.

It is quite possible that Carmelo Anthony was motivated to be playing close to his hometown of Baltimore (he said after the game, “Baltimore was definitely in the house.”) It is also possible that Carmelo could have scored 37 points because he’s the 2015 version of Bernard King and he has the ability to get his shot off whenever and wherever he wants. It is also very possible that Jared Dudley had no idea when he initially said Carmelo was overrated during this interview with Colin Cowherd back in May, that he’d be facing Carmelo three times as a Wizard. But when Carmelo Anthony mentioned that he heard what Dudley had to say about him being overrated, and that he circled his calendar for this game, Dudley absolutely deserves to wear the scarlet LVP letters.

Otto Porter also had trouble handling Carmelo in the post, but at least he contributed 16 points of offense to offset his tough defensive assignment. Not only was Dudley scoreless, but his only two shots of the game were wide open and momentum-killing missed 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, when the Wizards trailed by three points. In the second quarter, Dudley watched as Anthony scored eight points on him, and he had choice words for Anthony (I’m no lipreader, but I do believe he called Carmelo an expletive that rhymes with ‘other sucker’). Double technical fouls were assessed.

Yes, the Wizards lost this game on defense, and that has been an area of concern for Coach Wittman three games into this young season. But Dudley did nothing on offense, poked the bear named Carmelo on defense, and did not make himself available to the media after the game. He’s the real LVP.

X-Factor.

This was not a good night for Wizards big men not named Drew Gooden. Kris Humphries looked out of place and hesitant for much of the game, and scored just two points in 15 minutes. Marcin Gortat was active around the basket as usual, but he missed four shots within 10 feet early in the game and was never a factor. Nene got where he wanted on the floor offensively, but foul trouble plagued him the entire game. Even DeJuan Blair, who during media day vowed to make the most of all opportunities great and small, could not capitalize on the shortcomings of his fellow big men brethren. He was slow and out of position on defense, and was a non-factor on the offense end of the floor.

This was just one game, on the second night of a back-to-back, and the big men will presumably regroup for Wednesday’s game against the Spurs.  But the Knicks frontcourt of Porzingis and Robin Lopez isn’t exactly the second coming of Parish and McHale, and some more substantive contributions from the Wizards’ big men could have lessened the load on Wall and Beal.

That Game Was … A Teachable Moment for Randy Wittman.

During the postgame press conference, The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo asked Wittman if he thought his players were relying on their ability to score quickly as a crutch, instead of playing defense.  Coach Wittman—who was visibly emotional during much of the presser after attending a memorial service for Flip Saunders earlier in the day—was stern and quick in his response.

“I’m not worried, we’re going to get the mindset changed. We’ll go to work on Monday and get things changed around.”

During media day and preseason, the Wizards players marveled at the quicker pace and endless lineup opportunities at the coach’s disposal. And at times during both the Magic and Bucks game, it was indeed magical to see Wall and Beal leading the break to find Porter on the 3-point line, or Gortat rollling to the basket. Even when Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal entered the game, they too would push the pace and find the open man. But the offense is not the problem, and as Wittman mentioned afterward—110 points at home against the Knicks should have been more than enough to win. But the effort on defense is not there. In fact, Wittman mentioned that when he came into the locker room at halftime his team was more focused on what they were doing offensively than the 59 points they had given up to Carmelo and the Knicks.

When the Wizards erased the Knicks’ nine-point lead in the third quarter, the Wizards contested jump shots and forced players not named Carmelo Anthony to take difficult shots—but their shots were falling as well. When the Wizards shots were not falling, the defensive lapses returned, Carmelo heated back up and that was simply too much to overcome. As Bradley Beal observed, with the Spurs, Oklahoma City and the Atlanta Hawks coming up on the schedule, the Wizards cannot solely rely on quick scoring and porous defense.

Three Things We Saw.

#1.

In the first half, Jose Calderon and John Wall both spent time chirping at the refs regarding calls they deemed questionable. Given that the Knicks and the Wizards combined for 62 fouls, three technicals, and an unusually long two hours and 38 minutes of basketball, every player who played last night had an issue with a call or two from the referees.

When Wall came out of the locker room at halftime, Calderon ran right up to him and they had a brief animated, but friendly chat. After the game, I asked Calderon what the chat was about.

“We were just talking basketball and some plays that didn’t go our way during the course of the game, but it was friendly. I’ve always had a healthy relationship with him, and we talk during the game all the time, but we both were frustrated about things, so we talked. It was nothing.”

#2.

Kris Humphries played just 3:02 in the second half and 15 minutes total. He wasn’t rebounding, playing physical defense, or demonstrating the he was any type of threat on offense. Drew Gooden was hot early with nine first half points but scored just two in the second half. Yes, the Wizards have weapons galore to accompany Wall and Beal, but the stretch-4 position has to be a concern for Wittman and his staff. Humphries does not look at all comfortable, and Gooden is good in stretches off the bench, but he’s not the long-term answer either.

#3.

The veteran bench lineup of Dudley, Sessions, Neal, Nene, and Gooden played from the 1:34 mark of the first quarter to the 7:57 mark of the second quarter. Assistant coaches Don Zierden and Don Newman inserted them into the game, and when Coach Wittman returned to the bench, he gradually removed them from the game. That lineup entered the game with a 25-24 lead and left with a 40-39 lead, and everyone but Dudley scored. That’s as veteran and deep of a bench as the Wizards have had in the John Wall era.

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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.