No Country for California Kings — Wizards vs Kings, DC Council 26 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

No Country for California Kings — Wizards vs Kings, DC Council 26

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Updated: December 22, 2015

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs Kings, Game 26, Dec. 21, 2015, via Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks).

M.V.P.

Who else? The human embodiment of all Wizards basketball promise, potential, and prayer: John Wall.

Too much? Maybe. It’s just that Wall, playing on a dented, withered Wizards team that hasn’t defined anything resembling a winning rotation thus far, has played through more bumps and bruises than any panda or lean turkey sandwich. In that time, he’s rung up one of his best months as a professional. This while Wall shares the floor with the likes of NBA players Garrett Temple, rookie Kelly Oubre, Gary Neal (out for the Kings game), DeJuan Blair, and a number of other players that would have tattooed the shapes of their asses on the benches of other NBA teams by now, but have at times played heavy minutes for the Wizards in 2015.

Because Washington’s performance is so bound up in Wall’s individual performance, Wall’s career-high 19 assists on Monday night became necessary when his shot wasn’t falling. Previously, Wall’s scoring became necessary when Bradley Beal and Nene went out with injuries. Beal and Nene injuries are as predictable as eventual death, the unspoken throne upon which the entire world sags.

But if you watched the game, you saw how deftly Wall orchestrated a fledgling offense that still relies almost exclusively on his playmaking, how he signaled each player’s solo rather than waiting for them to create a cue. Almost a quarter of Wall’s 81 passes against the Kings resulted directly in a basket. That’s (unfortunately) how you compensate for a lack of surrounding talent: feed your teammates when they don’t have to do much else but shoot or finish.

All game, Wall (plus-35.6 NetRtg) played maestro to (asshole) Rajon Rondo’s mathematicaster (minus-20.8 NetRtg with an eFG% of 14.3% for good measure). While both lead guards struggled shooting the ball, and both posted gaudy assist numbers, Wall’s passes were almost uniformly suited to their recipient. Like a slow-motion Santa Claus (because Santa apparently travels the entire world in one night, which is crazy and probably not real), Wall’s passes arrived neatly wrapped under the trees of Marcin Gortat (bounce passes just above the hip), Temple (chest-high with nothing but clear sky ahead), and Jared Dudley (anywhere, tradition is a crutch).

L.V.P.

Discounting DeJuan Blair’s brief appearance (39 seconds of on-court time), the Wizards ran a more-playoff-than-playoff rotation of seven total players. Temple and Oubre shifted to the starting lineup to replace Beal and Otto Porter, respectively, while Ramon Sessions and Kris Humphries played heavy minutes off the bench. Jared Dudley, whose 3-point celebration looks like a tugboat bottom-trawling across a decimated seabed, or a senior citizen scooping up a Life Alert with a lacrosse stick, played 41 minutes. These are desperate times.

But our heroes prevailed, and shot 50.6 percent in doing so. Among those who played, there was nary a bad game to be found. Kelly Oubre didn’t make a big enough impact starting for Otto Porter, Kris Humphries still hasn’t figured out how to be effective on defense (but hit all three of his 3-point attempts), and Wall, tired and sore as he is, turned the ball over more than anyone would like (five in total). Nothing bad enough to warrant this ignominious badge.

If there is an antagonist to this story, it’s our corporeal nature. Beings comprised primarily of light, thought, or subspatial frequency would not succumb to such mortal woes. Or ever agree to wear suits.

X-Factor.

Marcin Gortat is having a rough year. Toward the end of last season, and over the summer, Gortat drove the player’s bus to the small ball advocacy center and taught classes about how much more space the team would have with Nene coming off the bench. But without Washington’s defensive paint patrolman, Nene, Gortat has been bamboozled by back screens, unable to properly contest layups, and generally not fit to be the defensive anchor that a four-out scheme requires of its 5 man.

But against one of the best centers in the game, Gortat turned in an A+ essay. DeMarcus Cousins shot 1-for-8 outside of the paint, and Gortat was smart to bait him into that kind of action. Meanwhile, Gortat (who doesn’t have an effective midrange game) shot 6-for-8 outside of the paint, which does temper my expectations that this kind of game can be dutifully replicated. STILL: even if only for confidence’s sake, the sensitive titanium lining Gortat’s basketball bones needed this one.

Gortat also defended the rim well against the Kings. The Polish Machine contested a team-high 16 shots at the rim, allowing only five to breach the wall, and sending four shots away with what the scoring table commonly refers to as “blocks.” In other words, opponents shot a mere 31.3 percent on shots at the rim contested by Gortat. The Wizards as a whole still struggled mightily to nab their rebound chances (a “pitiful” 45.2% were secured compared to Sacramento’s still-not-great 54.8%), but Gortat was able to pull down a season-high 16.

I’d be remiss, however, should I fail to mention the great Garrett Temple, he of the silky wave and large baseball mitt. Temple shot 5-for-10 from deep, and he took advantage of the Kings’ disinterest in guarding him out to the perimeter by abandoning the hesitation that often plagues role players stepping into starting roles. There’s some value in being retained so long by the same team in such a minor role. Temple may not feel the pressure we associate with increased roles any longer. He’s not at risk of waiver, and as long as Randy Wittman is around, it’s likely Temple will occupy a spot on the court or a spot on the bench.

On several occasions against Sacramento, Temple challenged multiple Kings defenders on the break, stretching for layups that seemed ill-advised, but were either converted or resulted in a foul. This was very good stuff.

That game was …

… a kettlebell dropped onto a seesaw, finally.

Your Washington Wizards haven’t won two games in a row since a November 21, 2015, win against the Detroit Pistons, Washington’s third straight win after defeating Orlando and Milwaukee. Sure, the Kings are hardly impressive prey, but the Wizards have hardly been impressive. The losing predates the injuries, but the injuries compound the losing. A distinct emotional undertow has haunted the last month of Wizards basketball, and any gloom-clearing is good for business. One hopes John Wall’s incredible December serves as lasting inspiration, because his performance (all alone in the doldrums) didn’t translate into tangible results: wins. It didn’t even taste like chicken.

In closing, a Vine of two Domino’s chefs rolling Garrett Temple in the restaurant chain’s signature flour-and-spice blend.

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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.