Key Legislature: Wizards 105 at Magic 99 — Washington Stays Afloat, Cruises One Naut North | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 105 at Magic 99 — Washington Stays Afloat, Cruises One Naut North

By
Updated: January 11, 2016

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 Magic, Regular Season Game 35, Jan. 9, 2016, by Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur)

This summer, the Wizards set out to modify their offense to more closely resemble the analytical trends that are currently sweeping the NBA, but it should come as no surprise to anyone that you can’t just turn a ship around like a four-door sedan. Making that type of turn is a tedious process that requires a certain amount of patience and, well, Saturday night could be viewed as one naut north in the right direction for Washington.

It’s not just the fact that the Wizards collected a much-needed win after losing three straight games, but also that they did it by completing a four-game sweep of a division rival a few spots ahead in the standings. Gratifying.

If only the Orlando Magic could appear on the schedule every night.

The Washington offense clicked, as it usually does when playing inferior opponents; and the team’s plethora of role players actually fulfilled their job descriptions. 3-pointers were falling (13-for-23), free throws were made (8-for-10), and the team played with “good” pace and shared the ball for 29 assists on their 42 total made field goals. John Wall was in true #WallStar form with 24 points and 10 assists, notching yet another double-double and fueling his team to the finish line with a dazzling display of ball-handling and creativity that made the tagline of his former shoe sponsor, adidas, “Quick Ain’t Fair,” seem to be totally applicable.

When the Magic cut what had been a consistent, 14-point Washington lead for much of the fourth quarter down to eight points with 5:13 left in the game, it was Wall who put the Wizards on his metaphoric back, assisting on a Jared Dudley 3 and then closing out the game with the team’s final eight points. This sequence included Wall knocking down two very clutch 3-pointers and also picking up his intensity on the defensive end, exerting effort at the point of attack to take full advantage of the fact that the Magic were without their usual starting point guard and best ball-handler, Elfrid Payton.

The Wizards defense as a whole has seen slight improvement over the last few weeks, holding opponents under the 100-point threshold more often. They are now 11-4 when holding opponents under the century mark. The Achilles’ heel of this defense right now has to be the defensive rebounding. Too many times, the Wizards will hold opponents to contested shots just to give up an offensive rebound and allow teams to thrive on second-chance opportunities. Saturday night, the Wizards allowed 11 offensive rebounds to the Magic, and those extra possessions were the one thing that kept John Wall’s team from sitting in absolute comfort.

The Wiz rank dead last in the NBA in terms of team rebounding, and you can’t completely blame that on injuries. If the Wizards are going to play small-ball lineups, then the wing players have to start crashing the boards instead of constantly looking to leak out for fast breaks. The Wizards were out-rebounded in the game, 37-27, but shot 56 percent on 23 3-point attempts: a good thing.

One of the main detractors in the team’s rebounding struggles over the course of the season has to be starting 4 Jared Dudley, who has been amazing in stretching the floor with his 3-point shooting … but his paltry 3.7 rebounds per game average for the season is greatly affecting how effective the Wizards are at finishing off their defensive possessions. While Dudley isn’t the only culprit, this stat only further exemplifies the predicament of trying to piece together games with a cast of role-players.

The game in Orlando was won because the Wizards wings showed up in a big way and were not only able to bring it on the offensive end, but also neutralized Magic wings Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, and Mario Hezonja. They combined for 28 points. Garrett Temple and Otto Porter had 11 and 16 points, respectively, on a combined 11-for-17 shooting effort, while the rook, Kelly Oubre, found a way to make an impact on the game in 15 minutes without even attempting a shot. Oubre continues to prove his value as a defense-first player and put forth a great effort battle with Tobias Harris, frustrating him by fronting him and providing great ball-denials.

The most important wing of all was Gary Neal, who for the first time in over a month looked like the player who can be relied upon for his microwave-like scoring ability off the bench. When Neal’s body cooperates, he’s one of few Wizards who can create their own shot. Neal shot 7-for-13 from the floor, nailing both of his 3-point attempts, including a halftime-buzzer-beater.

Saturday night’s game provides a glimmer of hope. Sure, some (many) games have not yielded the results that the players, coaches, and fans want, but the Wizards are at least theoretically playing the way that most envisioned, having been promised change after last year’s playoff showing. What has yet to be proven is whether the Wiz have the personnel to get back upstream this season. If they sink, will Captain Randy Wittman go down with the ship?

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.