Opening Statements: Wizards vs Hornets, Game 25 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Hornets, Game 25

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Updated: December 19, 2015

dc-over-charlotte-hornets-logo


Teams: Wizards vs Hornets
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Hornets favored by 1.5


 

The Wizards find themselves in a peculiar position a little past the quarter mark of the NBA season. For a team that came into the year with such high hopes after back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference semi-finals, to be almost just as close to the lowly 76ers (11 game lead on the worst record in the NBA) as they are to the top team in the conference (seven games behind the Cavaliers) is a whole heap of disappointment for a franchise that has grown very familiar with that term in their un-storied history. The Wizards are limping into a homestand after coming off of a five game road trip in which they struggled to compete with the likes of Western Conference playoff teams for a year ago, and as the losses keep piling up, so do the injuries.

Two weeks ago the Wizards were barely able to field a professional team when they had to resort to starting Ryan Hollins at center just a few days after he signed with the team. Randy Wittman had to piece together lineups without any viable big man contributors, but at least he had his two franchise players to lean on. But now, even that is a luxury with Bradley Beal out at least until Christmas with a leg stress injury that has plagued the youngster throughout his career.

John Wall has been coming into his own over December after having the worst month of his professional career in November. Wall averaged 14.5 points per game on a dismal 36 percent shooting from the field in November, but in December he returned to the #WallStar form that we have come to know, averaging 24.4 points and 10.7 assists on 50 percent shooting from the field in December. If the Wizards want to turn their season around against the Charlotte Hornets, the all-star Wall must show up and out-duel Kemba Walker.

The Wizards have a lot to be embarrassed about when it comes to the Charlotte Hornets. The last time these two teams met, the Hornets were walking off of the court after completing a 25-2 run to finish the game and at the time seemingly castrating a Wizards offense that almost ceased to exist.

The Hornets know the feeling. Last year they were ranked in the bottom 10 in terms of offensive efficiency, but what was once futile effort in putting the ball in the basket has now become a staple of a rejuvenated franchise that finds itself as one of three teams (along with the Spurs and Warriors) that are rated in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency for 2015-16. The Hornets, like the Wizards, have been playing smaller and embracing the 21st century aspect of basketball analytics and have been able to turn a few unfortunate injuries into blessings that will undoubtedly change their outlook going forward.

Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was injured after signing a lucrative contract extension in the offseason, but his injury may have been a blessing in disguise for a team that desperately needed to create better floor spacing. They often struggled with such due to MKG’s broken jump shot.

Center Al Jefferson was been out the past few weeks due to lingering calf issue and will now begin serving a five-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy now that he is healthy. The big man has made himself the new poster child for Bill Simmons’ “Ewing Theory,”  that chastises supposedly good players who are the focal point when they are on the court, but in actuality might not be that important as the team finds success in their absence. The Hornets have established an identity as a quick-decision offense, and the Big Al post-ups might be a thing of the past.

The Wizards come into tonight with one of the worst defenses in the entire league giving up 106 points per game and a league worst 40.9 percent 3-point shooting to opponents. This team finds itself at a crossroads, and a win will go a long way toward re-establishing confidence in a locker room that needs a bolt of energy. A loss, on the other hand, may send the Wizards further spiraling down a path that might turn into a lottery destination.

For an even better perspective on the visiting Hornets, lets turn to my guy Justin Thomas (@JTyree704) of ESPN 730 Charlotte to get a sense on how this game will play out.

Q#1. With Al Jefferson being hurt the last few weeks and the Hornets offense taking off this season in his absence, could this season be the last dance between the Hornets and Big Al?

@JTryee704: Going into the season I felt this would be Al Jefferson’s last season, and close to two months into the season I’ll stand by that sentiment. Jefferson to a degree brought some relevance to the Hornets, but in his 12th year with a lot of miles on his body, and the game trending away from the back to the basket game his value is diminishing. The fact that he’s missed significant time since arriving in Charlotte in 2012, with the mileage increasing more injuries will occur. Throughout his career Jefferson has never stayed with a team more than three seasons, that’ll likely continue with his last season being his third season with the Hornets.

Q#2. The Hornets were ranked in the bottom 5 in terms of offensive efficiency last season, but are now a top 10 offense, what has been the main difference between these two seasons besides the obvious subtraction of Lance Stephenson in the rotation?

@JTyree704The reason the Hornets are ranked top-five in offensive efficiency is because they have something that they didn’t have last season, talent. According to head coach Steve Clifford, Charlotte went out and added what it takes to win in this league. The Hornets have talent and versatility in their offseason additions of Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin and Spencer Hawes. As for Lance Stephenson last season, he and Kemba Walker couldn’t play well together because they both needed the ball in their hands to be effective. Despite Stephenson having the worst year of his career in Charlotte, he doesn’t get all of the blame he wasn’t any good and neither the Hornets.

Q#3. The Wizards and Hornets have both been blessed to have made it to the playoffs in a weaker Eastern Conference over the last few years, but now the East has seemingly become ultra-competitive overnight. Do you think that this level of consistency from the Eastern Conference is sustainable over the course of the full 82 game season? How many wins will it take to make the cutoff point for a playoff spot in the East?

@JTyree704What makes the Eastern Conference interesting is that outside of a healthy Cleveland Cavaliers roster, there isn’t a great team. There isn’t a significant difference from the second seed to the eighth seed. The East has taken a beating for the past couple of years, because the conference was so putrid, but now the conference is filled with parity. You can literally go on a four-game winning streak and shoot to second in the conference or go on a two-game skid and slip to sixth. There will be many teams that’ll fall between the top half and bottom half of the conference throughout the course of season. As for how many wins will it’ll take to make the playoffs, I’ll go with 38 wins. For the past three seasons 37 and 38 wins were good enough to make it, 38 will be the lucky number.

Q#4. These two teams met a few weeks back and the Hornets finished the game on a 25-2 run to coast toan easy victory over the Wizards, where John Wall played one of his worst games of the year. Conversely, Kemba Walker is quietly having one of his best season’s, who do you think wins the battle of the point guards in this matchup?

@JTyree704The first time Kemba Walker and John Wall got together this season, Walker was a winner in a blowout win finishing with 16 points on 47 percent and five assists. Dating back to the 2012-13 season Walker leads the head-to-head series against Wall 6-3.To give credit where credit is due, Walker is having his best year of his career and he’s shooting the ball better at a much improved 45 percent. We don’t need to have the argument of who the better point guard is, but for this question’s sake I’ll go with history and side with Walker. I personally want to thank you for reaching out and lending a helping hand, this is genuinely appreciated, thank you again.

 

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Writer
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. He is going into his second season writing for Truth About It, and also writes for sports analytics website numberfire.com. You can find him in a district bike lane in the Northwest neighborhood of Bloomingdale.