Key Legislature: Wizards 98 vs Trail Blazers 108 — They Came, They Saw, They Conquered | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 98 vs Trail Blazers 108 — They Came, They Saw, They Conquered

By
Updated: January 19, 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 vs Blazers, Regular Season Game 40, Jan. 18, 2016, by Rashad Mobley (@rashad20).

To truly understand why the Portland Trailblazers were destined to play the high quality brand of basketball they played during their 108-98 victory over the Washington Wizards, it is important to look back to Portland’s Saturday night in Philadelphia.

Yes, Philadelphia is playing better since Ish Smith (who was a Wizard during the preseason) joined the team, and yes, coaches and players alike love to roll out the “this is the NBA, anyone can beat anyone” platitude from time to time, but the Blazers gave a substandard effort and that gave the Sixers their biggest victory of the season, 114-89. C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined for just 27 points on 27 percent shooting and Portland allowed rookie Jahlil Okafor to amass 25 points and 10 rebounds. Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts said, “We never got into any rhythm in the game.”

After Portland’s blowout victory against the Wizards on Monday afternoon, center Meyers Leonard was asked about the team’s transition from Philadelphia to Washington:

“Well, we talked about Philadelphia yesterday and obviously looked at the scouting stuff for Washington today. Pretty frustrated with how we played. We didn’t have much of an edge against Philadelphia, and we didn’t throw [that feeling] away. We just really thought about it more, not from a basketball side, just how you approach the game and you gotta respect each team, so we knew coming into today Washington was playing well—transition team aggressive on the defensive end. So we were gonna have to really lock into their tendencies, be ready for them in transition, and continue to share the ball and be ourselves.”

The Wizards may not have been blown out prior to the Portland game, but they did have a disheartening, last-second loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday to kick off a five-game home stand. Coach Randy Wittman and the coaching staff knew Sunday’s game was high in letdown potential given the Blazers’ inferior record—and he knew how hungry they would be given their Saturday night loss to the Sixers.

“I tried to talk to them (the Wizards) a little bit, too, before the game. You have to understand the mind state of the team you’re playing, too,” Wittman said. “This team got a little embarrassed in Philadelphia last game, and I said to them, ‘This is going to be like the seventh game of the playoffs. That’s how they’re coming out tonight.’ ”

Halfway through the first quarter, it was crystal clear that Coach Stotts and his message of urgency had gotten through to his players, while Coach Wittman’s had fallen hopelessly flat. McCollum and Lillard, who struggled mightily against the Sixers, combined to score 12 of Portland’s first 17 points, and did so with little or no resistance from Wall or Temple. Conversely, Wall had his first shot blocked and followed that up with a turnover. Temple was the only Wizards player fully engaged; he accounted for all of the offense in the first five minutes with four points and an assist.

The Wizards received an offensive boost from Ramon Sessions and Nene off the bench (eight points apiece), but they still trailed by 15 points at the end of the quarter. Portland shot 59 percent, the Wizards shot 38 percent (Wall went 0-for-4); defensively, there were communication issues, as evidenced by the quarter-ending shot by Meyers Leonard. Nene and Gary Neal (who was oddly subbed in the game for Jared Dudley with just three seconds left) were each two steps late:

The Wizards appeared to finally get Wittman’s pregame plea in the second quarter and the Trail Blazers lost a bit of their momentum. Wittman instructed his players to aggressively trap the Blazers on defense in an effort to increase his team’s energy level on both ends of the floor, and it worked. Dudley hit two 3-pointers in the first three minutes and then he displayed a deft passing touch by delivering three perfectly placed passes to Marcin Gortat in the paint. Gortat, buoyed by Dudley’s generosity, scored 10 of his 11 points in the period inside of 10 feet (the other point came via the free throw line). The Wizards malodorous defensive effort still left much to be desired (they allowed 27 points), but their 81 percent shooting (17-21) was sweet-smelling deodorant, as were the 40 points they scored. Things were going so well that Wittman—who isn’t exactly known as being an adept X’s and O’s guy—called the perfect play out of a timeout to end the half. The Wizards trailed by only two points.

The momentum the Wizards built at the conclusion of the first half barely lasted for one minute in the third quarter. Then, as the Wizards have been wont to do in third quarters this season, they seemingly stopped trying. First, their shots stopped falling, then their trapping and double-teaming—which had been instrumental in shrinking the Blazers lead from 15 to two in the second quarter—was a non-factor. Lillard and McCollum cracked that code.

Lillard and McCollum routinely dribbled through and around the Wizards’ trap attempts, and they either scored on floaters or found their teammates for wide-open jumpers—a direct result of the aggressiveness Wittman was forced to manufacture. Temple’s 3-pointer with 11:25 left in the third quarter gave the Wizards a one-point lead, but they were outscored 33-16 over the remainder of the quarter. McCollum had 9 points, Lillard had 8, Plumlee had 6, and Leonard, who Comcast SportsNet’s J. Michael jokingly called Dirk Nowitzki, had 6 points on two 3-pointers that were not contested. The Wizards did not show up over the remainder of the game.

John Wall, announced as the Eastern Conference Player of the Week during the game for the yeoman’s work he did last week, followed up his missed game-ending layup against Boston with 9 points, 10 assists, 3 steals, and 3 rebounds. His teammates provided decent numbers, which may as well have been fluff, considering how little they factored into game’s final outcome. Bradley Beal had 16 points in 24 minutes, Gortat had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Temple had a team-high 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

To make matters worse, the post-game comments from the Wizards read like a poor imitation of a “who’s on first?” routine. Beal said there were both communication and scheme issues on defense, Nene commented that at times he and his teammates did not know how to play basketball, Wall was frustrated with the inconsistent effort of his teammates, and Wittman did not understand why his players did not heed his pre-game warning. Yes, the Wizards built up noteworthy goodwill with their four-game win streak last week, but the last-minute loss to the Celtics, coupled with the lethargic effort against Portland, pretty much nullifies that handiwork.

The Wizards are now 19-21, two and a half games out of the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference, and more importantly, they are 0-2 so far in this five-game home stand. Their next three games are against the Heat, the Jazz, and the Celtics, and they face the very real possibility of going 0-5 at home. The Wizards have lost 13 home games this season after losing just 12 home games all of last year, and, worst of all, they’ve dropped five of their last six at home.

Washington still can lean on the players who have yet to return from injury as a crutch, since Alan Anderson, Otto Porter, Drew Gooden, and Kris Humphries are still (or once again) in street clothes. In fact, Wittman played Nene and Gortat together for the first time all season due to the dearth of options at the 4. But at some point, one has to wonder when the injuries and the excuses are irrelevant, and their below-average record reflects the bitter reality of who the Wizards really are this season.

Rashad Mobley on FacebookRashad Mobley on InstagramRashad Mobley on Twitter
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.