Opening Statements: Wizards at Pelicans, Game 21 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at Pelicans, Game 21

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Updated: December 11, 2015


Teams: Wizards at Pelicans
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Pelicans fav’d by 3 points


Two teams that were supposed to make some noise in the playoffs this spring tip off tonight in the Crescent City. Both know that while their aspirations haven’t been dashed, their current position is the NBA pecking order has been far reduced from what was expected by preseason pundits.

In one corner you have the New Orleans Pelicans, a team that snuck into the playoffs a year ago and managed to give the eventual champion Golden State Warriors a bit of a series before bowing out in the first round. At the time, most of the attention was focused on all-world power forward Anthony Davis and how the Pelicans were well positioned for the next decade with one of the top ten players in the NBA dominating in the post and flashing an all-around game (complete with range from behind the arc) that makes him an almost unstoppable force on both ends. Sensing a team on the cusp of being good (if not great), the Pelicans sent the much maligned Monty Williams packing and hired Alvin Gentry (previously Golden State’s associate head coach) to tighten up the defense and redesign the offensive system to get the most out of Davis and his teammates.

Now sitting at 5-18, the Pelicans season isn’t lost, but their chances of making the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference are infinitesimal, at best. Injuries to key starters (including Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday) have played a large role in the unraveling of the team but equal attention should be paid to the fact that Gentry has been unable to fashion the Pelicans defensively into a unit that is at least league average. Now the Pelicans find themselves shopping an attractive commodity (swingman 3-point shooter Ryan Anderson) and staring bleakly at the rubble of a season that held so much promise.

On the flip side of the coin you have the Wizards, puttering along at 9-11 and not really scaring anyone in the Eastern Conference, even if Bradley Beal (incorrectly) believes they’re a “targeted” team. Randy Wittman’s newly-installed “pace and space” system appears to be perennially stuck in second gear, and his ability to coax above average defensive effort from his charges evaporated somewhere between the months of August and September. But perhaps the worst thing to emerge from the Washington locker room is the sniping, whether it be on the subject of Kevin Durant, the quality of the offseason acquisitions, or the the role of each Wizard within the new offensive system.

While neither team can be said to have reached their potential, there is a larger narrative taking place as Golden State reinvents the game on a nightly basis, leaving teams like the Pelicans and the Wizards trailing in the dust. While much is made of the small ball system that the Warriors have perfected (along with their acumen from behind the arc and top 5 defense), less attention is paid to the careful roster construction that got them there and how difficult that particular balancing act is within the NBA. For all his otherworldly talent, Anthony Davis is still saddled with ball stoppers in Evans, Holiday, and Eric Gordon. The Wizards, despite the enormous growth of Otto Porter and continued development of Bradley Beal, still have yet to maximize John Wall’s talents or find a way to seamlessly incorporate other parts of the offense (the Gortat pick-and-roll) in such a way that efforts to put the ball in the hoop don’t resemble an engine misfiring.

This example is not limited to the incandescent Warriors, but can be extended to lesser teams such as the Celtics or Hornets, which, despite limited talents, have bought into their respective systems and find themselves safely above the dreaded .500 line. Neither team has a player of either Davis’ or Wall’s caliber on the roster, but each team works within its established limitations.

For either the Pelicans or Wizards to pull themselves out of the mire, there is a pressing need to put aside the sniping and hero ball and engage completely with their respective coaches’ systems. Anything less is a clear indication that both organizations should consider moving on from the men they have charged with running their X’s and O’s.

The Wizards played the Pelicans twice last season and averaged just 87.5 points per game. They won both games, somehow, and, actually, haven’t lost to New Orleans since 2011 (seven straight). Recent history is in Wittman’s favor but the record may spin a different tune a few hours from now.

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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.