Smoke, Mirrors, and the Panda — Wizards vs Suns, DC Council 17 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Smoke, Mirrors, and the Panda — Wizards vs Suns, DC Council 17

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Updated: December 5, 2015

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs Suns, Game 17, Dec. 4, 2015, via Rashad Mobley (@rashad20)

M.V.P.

Halfway through the fantasy football season, there is always one team that’s 0-8 or 1-7 due to bad luck, poor roster decisions, and/or substandard drafting. Then, as if all the stars aligned, that team gets on an inexplicable roll the second half of the season—not enough of a roll to make the playoffs and contend for the championship, but enough to salvage the season with a series of bittersweet, moral victories. That is what it felt like watching Bradley Beal impose his will on the Phoenix Suns last night.

First, a reminder of just how poorly Beal played in the Wizards’ horrible loss to the Los Angeles Lakers (via Conor Dirks):

Bradley Beal was awful. This was a ghost of a game for Beal. His usage rate (19.8%) was lower than Gortat’s (20.5%), and only slightly higher than Otto Porter (16.4%). Beal shot a disappointing 2-for-9 (22.2%) on uncontested shots, and any significant contribution from him would have won the game for the Wizards. Beal’s two total free throw attempts probably aren’t enough given how far off his shot, which trended left all night, was.

On Friday night Beal went at Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight the way he should have gone after Kobe Bryant. His usage rate was a robust, game-high 29.6 percent, as he shot 12-for-23 from the field, including 5-for-8 from the 3-point line. He started quickly with eight points in the opening quarter, but after eight minutes of rest from the end of the first quarter to the halfway point of the second, Beal became passive. He made just one of three shots (including a layup), he picked up an offensive foul, and the dreaded but predictable Sad Panda body language was seen by all.

Then came the magical third quarter.

Beal exploded for 14 points in the third, and unleashed what Marv Albert would call, “his full repertoire.” There were yo-yo dribbles, step-back jumpers, hard drives to the baskets, contested and wide-open shots, plus dunks—oh my! The bad body language disappeared, and Beal began to flash his customary post-basket smirk. During a one-minute stretch of the third quarter, when the Wizards trailed 53-62, Beal went on a solo 7-0 run to cut he Suns lead to four. He hit an 18-footer, grabbed a Bledsoe miss before hitting a 3-pointer, stole an errant Jon Leuer pass, and emphatically threw down a reverse dunk. He’d then score 10 points in the fourth quarter, including four points in the last minute, which helped the Wizards hold the lead.

Again, this version of Beal was needed against the Kobe and the dreadful Lakers, when John Wall was basically forced to take on the entire L.A. team alone. But it was encouraging to see Beal rise to the occasion on a night when the Wizards dressed just 10 players. Randy Wittman agreed and mildly implored Beal to continue playing with the right mentality by saying, “Yeah, that’s who he can be when he puts his mind to it.”

To Beal’s credit, in his postgame remarks, he not only admitted that more aggression was needed—”I was not aggressive enough in the last couple of games and I blame myself for that, especially the game the other night against Los Angeles,” Beal said—but he also demonstrated that he may be able to fill that glaring leadership void left by Paul Pierce, which has been evident during the first two months of the season.

“I looked at everyone in the fourth quarter and said we are going to win this game,” Beal said, postgame. “We were down 10 or seven or whatever it was and I said this game is still winnable. We’re going to do everything we can do to win it. We didn’t play perfectly, we still had 20-plus turnovers, but we did a great job defending down the stretch and scoring when we needed to. We had some really big plays and we need to continue to do that moving forward.”

This one offensive/defensive stretch pretty much sums up Beal’s night:

L.V.P.

On defense, Jared Dudley was not his usual vocal self (but he did get his hands on a few loose balls late in the fourth quarter). On offense, he shot 0-for-7 from the field, including 0-for-3 from the 3-point line—the only positive being that the shots were taken in the rhythm of the offense, and he was getting open looks.

Wittman replaced Dudley with Garrett Temple at the start of the second half. His reasoning:

“I thought I left him in a little too long in the first half.(1) I thought he got winded, and so I wanted to give him another break to start the third quarter. I put Otto (Porter) there and brought Garrett in. That is really the only reason why. I wanted to give him some more rest before coming out at halftime.”

Coach Wittman’s explanation for Dudley’s play sounds perfectly legitimate … until that quote is juxtaposed with what Dudley said to Comcast SportsNet’s Chris Miller the morning of the game:

“I expect to play everything, including center, against the [Suns]. They have a lot of guards, a lot of pick-and-rolls, my value is being up in those pick-and-rolls and really knowing their personnel. Certain games you have to play 40 minutes, this will be the one.”

Dudley knew a yeoman’s effort would be required, and he knew the Phoenix personnel and what they wanted to run, yet he was absolutely useless, and the Wizards won in spite of his performance. He played just six minutes in the second half and 23 overall.

X-Factor.

Where Jared Dudley fell short in the veteran big-play department, Gary Neal and Ramon Sessions stepped up and gladly took on that responsibility. The second quarter started with both Beal and Wall on the bench. Neal and Sessions combined to score 13 consecutive points to cut the Phoenix lead from six to two points. Neal (10 points) did damage from his customary midrange position, whereas Sessions (six points), as he’s been wont to do as of late, got to the basket, and took the safest option with a two-hand dunk on a breakaway.

Neal did not score for the remainder of the game, but every bench player has a responsibility on a shorthanded night, and Neal’s job was to keep the Wizards close in the second quarter. Sessions’ job was to help Beal win the game in the fourth quarter, and with Tyson Chandler out with a sore hamstring and Alex Len on the bench, Sessions took full advantage. Eight of his 10 points came via layups, and the two free throws he shot and made were a result of him being fouled en route to the basket.

That Game Was…

A little bit of smoke and small mirrors. Coach Wittman joked that against Cleveland he was using smaller lineup combinations he had “never dreamed of,” but perhaps that experience helped him prepare for last night’s undermanned reality. Marcin Gortat was out for personal reasons; Nene, Kris Humphries, and Drew Gooden were injured; and DeJuan Blair and Ryan Hollins are simply not good enough to play major minutes. Wittman, as a result, played lineups which looked straight out of the World Basketball League, which, during its run, set height restrictions at 6-foot-7.

Washington’s screens were a little less solid than usual and that pick-and roll-deficiency made the Wizards look downright inept for three quarters. It was evident that the Wizards were not sure of themselves sans players with size. Yet they still won the game. In the fourth quarter, the Wizards played all but one second without a traditional big man on the floor. Otto Porter, Jared Dudley, and Garrett Temple each took turns playing the 4 and 5 positions with mixed results. Offensively, there was space galore, which Beal and Sessions cheered after the game. But when that small lineup as on defense, Markieff Morris (6-foot-10) looked unstoppable in the post, and Jon Leuer had his way with several baskets as well.

“It actually was kinda fun,” Wittman said afterwards, when asked about making big magic out of a lineup that was both short and shorthanded. “You don’t get into those situations very often where you are trying to look at what kind of disadvantage you can put the other team at by being so small.”

Three Things We Saw.

#1) Young Otto Porter fell victim to his own nifty crossover…

#2) Ryan Hollins and DeJuan Blair are not ready … for much. Coach Jeff Hornacek could have very easily kept giving the ball to Alex Len while Ryan Hollins was guarding him. The Wizards media guide lists Hollins at 240 pounds and Len at 260, but the disparity looked much greater on the court. Len would pin Hollins underneath the basket with just two dribbles, and only his lack of coordination prevented him from scoring at will. And Blair, despite the absence of frontcourt competition due to injury and personal reasons, was STILL unable to recapture sustained periods of that super San Antonio Spurs stuff. He had a nice floater in the lane and a nifty assist via touch pass to Otto Porter but that was it. Nene, Drew Gooden, Gortat, and even Humphries cannot come back fast enough.

#3) This game was sloppy, unconventional and downright strange. TAI’s Kyle Weidie discussed the Markieff Morris mishap at the end of the game. He also captured this chaotic, yet comedic series of events.

  1. Dudley played 17 minutes.
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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.