Hard(en)-Knock Life — Wizards vs Rockets, DC Council 20 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Hard(en)-Knock Life — Wizards vs Rockets, DC Council 20

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Updated: December 10, 2015

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs Rockets, Game 20, Dec. 9, 2015, via Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace).

M.V.P.

For all the good that John Wall did versus the Rockets—and he did a lot of it—this was James Harden’s game. Harden was coming off a poor outing the previous night, when he scored 10 points (2-9 FG) in an ugly loss to Brooklyn, and he made a concerted effort to come out strong against Washington. “He took responsibility for that game last night,” Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “He showed up tonight and got busy.”

Harden concurred. “Last night, I wasn’t aggressive at all. I was way too passive, that’s why I was turning the basketball over. I just wanted to come out here and be aggressive,” Harden said post-game. Passivity was not a problem in D.C. Harden hit 13-of-23 from the field (5-9 3PT) and took 12 trips to the free throw line. It was not all pretty for Harden, though, as he committed seven turnovers and played matador defense on a few possessions.

Nevertheless, Harden came through when it counted most. With the score tied 99-99, Harden blocked Otto Porter’s shot and then set up Bradley Beal for a patented step-back jumper and a foul.

“I just wanted to get a shot up. I was feeling good all night,” Harden explained. “I created the space that I needed, put the shot up and he hit me in my elbow and I made the shot.” Harden hit the free throw for a 102-99 lead that proved to be the difference in the game, allowing him to leave the arena with a W (and a questionable wardrobe selection).

Honorable Mention: John Wall’s performance should not go unmentioned in the M.V.P. conversation. Wall was electric during the third quarter run when Washington turned a 13-point deficit into a five-point lead. Wall scored 10 points with five assists in the third quarter and added another eight points and two assists while playing the entire fourth quarter. He may have nabbed M.V.P. honors himself, if not for a costly turnover that effectively ended the game. With Houston leading 104-101 with 48.3 seconds remaining, Wall drove to the rim and left his feet with nowhere to go and tossed the ball to Harden. Corey Brewer scored a layup on the ensuing fast break. It should be noted that the errant pass (similar to the jump-pass turnover in the final seconds versus the Lakers) was Wall’s only turnover of the second half. Nevertheless, history is written by the victors.

L.V.P.

Bradley Beal. This one is not entirely fair. Beal had an off-game, but he was not the biggest culprit in the loss. Still, when you are a soon-to-be max player whose stock-in-trade is shooting, you have to do better than 5-for-15 (1-7 3PT), especially when your counterpart is dropping an efficient 42 points on 23 field goal attempts. Beal was passive all night, forcing errant passes in the lane instead of attacking the rim. He ended the game with an unsightly seven turnovers.

One particularly egregious example occurred with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter and Washington leading 93-92. Beal drove the lane with a clear path to the basket but tried to sneak a pass to Gortat rather than challenge Howard at the rim. Corey Brewer stole the ball and pushed it ahead for a Patrick Beverley 3-pointer to give Houston it’s first lead of the fourth quarter.

On the bright side, Bradley was responsible for one half of the Wizards’ best highlight of the night.

X-Factor.

Jared Dudley is still working his way back into shape after off-season back surgery and he plays most of his minutes out of position at power forward, which leaves him in tough defensive situations, but he is starting to show the little things that make him such a valuable player.

“Jared Dudley I think is one of the most under-appreciated guys in the league,” Bickerstaff said before the game. “He’s so smart, he’s so crafty. He gets things done that you wouldn’t expect him to do. He always seems to get key rebounds in traffic with bigger guys around.”

Dudley’s craftiness was on full display during Washington’s electric third quarter run that erased a 13-point deficit in two and a half minutes. Dudley hit a 3-pointer, then—after Wall made a jumper—he stole the ball from Harden and hit Otto for a driving dunk. After Wall and Beal scored four more points, Dudley stole the ball again and hit another 3-pointer to cut Houston’s lead to one.

That Game Was … More of the Same.

Randy Wittman’s post-game press conference might as well have been delivered by this guy:

“At home, for whatever reason, we come out and play too cool, too soft, and kind of just, ‘Let’s see how the game is gonna go.’ Happens almost every home game,” Wittman said. “We’re digging ourselves in too big a hole by playing too cool and too soft at the start of the game. It’s as evident as night and day.”

The players did not take too kindly to Wittman’s characterization of their temperament.

According to CSN’s Ben Standig, Wall responded: “I ain’t soft and I know my teammates aren’t soft.”

“You have to ask each player separately. I don’t know,” Marcin Gortat said. “I’m coming out every day trying to do my best. I take my job very seriously.”

Whatever the reason for the Wizards’ lackadaisical play, it is a serious problem that needs an immediate solution. Wittman may be tired of yelling at his players every halftime and the players may be tired of hearing the negativity, but the reality is that the team now sits at 9-11, good for 11th place in the Eastern Conference. No one should be safe from yelling and/or negativity at this stage of the season.

Three Things We Saw.

#1) John Wall and Marcin Gortat had the pick-and-roll working throughout the game and probably should have run that play to death (or until Houston adjusted). Houston’s big, which was often Dwight Howard, sagged in the lane and let Wall take open jumpers—which he hit consistently all night. When the Rockets challenged Wall’s shot, Gortat slipped to the rim for easy looks or swung the ball to wide-open shooters.

#2) J.B. Bickerstaff returned to Washington for the first time as a head coach in the same arena where his father used to coach the Bullets/Wizards. Bernie Bickerstaff, who currently works for the Cleveland Cavaliers, was in attendance to “watch” his son’s victory.

(Former Washington Bullets/Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff - NBA TV)

(Former Washington Bullets/Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff in attendance at Verizon Center for the December 9, 2015 Wizards-Rockets game. – NBA TV)

#3) Otto Porter was particularly active around the basket but he continues to miss uncontested shots at the rim and needlessly attempts double-clutch layups whenever a rim protector is in the vicinity. Once he starts attacking aggressively, his paint opportunities will result in more and-1s and fewer empty possessions.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.