Key Legislature: Wizards 114 at Heat 103 — Another Top-Tier Win Sheds Light on Wizards Potential | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 114 at Heat 103 — Another Top-Tier Win Sheds Light on Wizards Potential

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Updated: December 9, 2015

TAI’s Key Legislature… The game’s defining moment, its critical event, the wildest basketball thing you ever saw, or just stuff that happened. Wizards at Heat, Regular Season Game 19, Dec. 7, 2015, by Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur).

One night can change a lot in terms of perspective. But even after a gritty win over another top-tier NBA team, the Wizards reminded us that they are just as enigmatic as ever. Monday night’s performance against Miami was a world apart from what was seen the previous night against the Dallas Mavericks. They created timely opportunities, not squandered them, and those chances would ultimately allow them to win this game.

The key moment occurred around the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter, after the Heat went on a 7-2 run to tie it at 103. The Wizards were able to force a few turnovers with their defensive intensity and convert a few big-pressure shots (with maybe a slight assist from the referees) to pull out a huge confidence-boosting victory.

The play in question was reviewed as part of the NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report that’s released if a game is within five points at the two-minute mark. Upon further look, the play was designated as an INC (incorrect non-call), meaning that traveling should have been called on Bradley Beal—but that’s irrelevant at this point, so let’s just appreciate the win.

John Wall was undoubtedly the team MVP, but it was Bradley Beal, the Robin to Wall’s Batman, who made two game-winning plays. Beal’s steal-dunk combo against Dwyane Wade was the exact type of defense-to-offense play that the Wizards had not been getting from Beal, let alone any of their contributing players in winning time, over the first month of the season. The way Beal baited Wade into his patented spin move in the lane then picked his pocket was a masterful piece of savvy NBA play. Even on the controversial play of the game, give Beal credit for attacking the basket and having the presence of mind to continue playing through a blatant error and finding an open Gary Neal in the corner.

Speaking of Neal, who matched Brad with 21 points (off the bench), he deserves a lion’s share of the credit for the win. The Wizards are experimenting with all kind of small lineups, and none of them would be effective without viable 3-point shooting options on the floor. Neal has proven to be the Wizards’ best shooter so far, leading the team in 3-point shooting percentage: 45.7 percent, tied for fifth-best in the NBA. If Neal can keep his troublesome groin healthy, he will more than likely become a mainstay in future Wizards small-ball lineups because of his ability to space the floor.

Neal’s second-unit running mate Ramon Sessions also had himself a decent outing, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field. When Sessions finishes at the rim, which he did once despite contact, he is a valuable asset to the Wiz’s winning process, since he helps take pressure off of John Wall.

One big takeaway, one that the Wizards hopefully learned in their attempts to play small: Everyone needs to crash the glass on every possession. No one exhibited that demand more than Otto Porter, who finished with a career-high 14 rebounds for the game. Otto’s 14 boards definitely went a long way in ensuring that the Wizards claimed the rebounding margin 37-34 over the Heat. If Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra wants to be mad at anything after this game, he should point the finger at himself for playing down to the size of the Wizards with his lineup choices when he has one of the most dominant rebounding and shot-blocking big men in the NBA in Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside did not log a single fourth-quarter minute, despite the fact that he went a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and had three blocks.

The Heat were coming into yesterday’s game with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and 10-3 at home, but it seems that the gap between the Washington Wizards and Miami might be surprisingly small. I know it is very easy to get all doom and gloom after a clear display of ineptitude from the Wiz, and I am as guilty as charged, but after some further digging into the full landscape of the East, it’s not far fetched to see why the Wizards need to take Beal’s “glass half full” mentality for the rest of this season.

Currently the Wizards are on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but things could change very quickly. While the East is clearly a bit more competitive than it has been in past years, a lot of the teams in the playoff mix are all jumbled together. Washington is only 3.5 games back of the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers, a team they have already defeated.

The Wizards were kind of fortunate with the way their early season schedule has played out by not having played as many games as the majority of the teams in the league (they have played 19 total games, whereas a lot of NBA teams have already played 22 or 23 games). What the Wizards schedule lacks in quantity, it definitely makes up for in quality. According to ESPN RPI stats, the Wizards have had the sixth-toughest strength of schedule in the NBA and it will only get tougher with their upcoming road trip. No doubt that the Wizards recent rash of injuries that has the bench looking like a M*A*S*H* unit has affected the team’s play over the last two weeks, but it is still no excuse to blow close games against inferior competition.

One of the way that the Wizards can improve their current standing in the East is to get back to the defensive intensity that they had as a team last year. They finished last year with the fifth most efficient defense in the NBA only allowing 100 points per 100 possessions, now the Wizards have the 22nd ranked defense and allow 103.5 points per 100 possessions. Some of this can be attributed to playing a smaller brand of basketball, but professional sports is not an excuse-making business.

Washington, despite flaws, is capable of playing at high level against quality opponents, just as they have in the last two postseasons. But in order for this team to reach a level of consistency, they will their young stars continue matriculating through the growing pains of learning how to close games. A little luck in the health department wouldn’t hurt either.


 

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.