Key Legislature: Wizards 123 at Rockets 122 — 'Real' Wizards Show Up In Gutty Win | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 123 at Rockets 122 — ‘Real’ Wizards Show Up In Gutty Win

Updated: January 31, 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 Rockets, Regular Season Game 45, Jan. 30, 2016, by Kyle Weidie (@truth_about_it).

The Washington Wizards got their most important win of the season on Saturday night in Houston. It came during a time of a collective struggle—Thursday’s home loss to the rebuilding Nuggets, the Wizards’ third in a row, led to a players-only meeting—as well as personal tragedy. Head coach Randy Wittman, increasingly under fire for not being able to motivate and strategize his team into playing ‘the right way,’ found out that morning that his brother unexpectedly passed away.

The Wizards somehow found a way to win, 123-122, after their star, John Wall, missed a point-blank layup in the final minute. On the other end, James Harden (40 points on 20 field goal attempts), missed his own close-range attempt and his teammate, Josh Smith, missed a putback. Wall then rebounded the ball, his eighth defensive board, and launched it in the other direction as the game clock expired. It would have been an extremely tough loss to swallow, given the outlined reasons atop the number of controversial calls from referees unable to fully control the flow of the game. A loss likely would’ve kicked the downward spiraling Wizards even further to the curb with games in Oklahoma City and versus Golden State on the immediate slate. Instead, a slight bit of hope—nothing too unlike the season’s pattern to date, but each glimmer does represent opportunity.

The prevalent themes arising from that players-only meeting on Thursday were that the Wizards needed to stay true to the identity they set out to establish (shoot more 3-pointers and play faster to open the floor for such); that a number of players needed to recommit to the defensive end; and that there were faint grumblings about a return to the Nene-Marcin Gortat starting lineup. The duo started four games in a row, starting with a win against a depleted Miami Heat team, and then for three-straight losses to Boston, in Toronto, and to Denver. The result: Jared Dudley was inserted back into the starting lineup versus the Rockets; Washington attempted 12 3-pointers in the first quarter (but only made two, the Wizards shot 11-32 for the game); and, perhaps arising from a bargain that the coach made with his team on returning to a stretch 4 starting lineup, Randy Wittman got better defensive efforts, particularly from John Wall, but also from Gortat trying to provide a bit more toughness in the paint. Wall seemed to ramp up his defense early, aggressively fighting through and over screens and shying away from the passive switching he often settles for (1).

So the first quarter started well enough. The Wizards jumped to a 6-0 lead, forcing an early timeout for Houston. Jumpers were nailed, and one should-be staple of a smaller lineup offense came to fruition on the game’s second score, except it was Dudley this time creating for Gortat off screening action. Still, Washington missed open 3 after open 3 and finished the quarter down four points, 28-32, despite beating up the Rockets on the boards and not turning the ball over once.

The second quarter signalled that the game would be a battle—Washington’s relatively egalitarian offense (seven different Wizards scored in the second), versus James Harden and the Beardettes (Harden dropped 12 points in the period). Gary Neal went 4-for-4 off the bench in the second quarter after a DNP-CD versus Denver, and Drew Gooden threw himself into the fray and was disruptive, in a good way (2). If it weren’t for some unforced, sailing-pass turnovers in the latter half of the second quarter, the Wizards could have led at intermission. Instead, a James Harden run-up 3-pointer with 1 second left (that everyone saw coming) was the difference, 62-59 Rockets.

The third quarter is where the Wizards made their mark, winning it 31-26 and shooting 5-for-9 from deep after a 3-for-16 first half. Wall set up a corner 3 for Dudley within the first 60 seconds for the identity-seeking squad, tying the game. There were plenty of other times where Wall set the table with a few dribbles and a cross-court pass to get the defense moving. Houston counter-punched from deep—Harden hit a couple 3s, and Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry each hit one. And Bradley Beal, quiet all game, really struggled in pick-and-roll coverage with Gortat. But Dudley hit another 3 in the quarter, and Ramon Sessions, almost unwillingly, hit two above the break, igniting his team with 12 points off the bench in the third period. Washington took an 90-88 lead into the final 12 minutes.

Intra-game battles between Nene and Dwight Howard, and Drew Gooden and Josh Smith—old heads—defined the early-goings of the fourth, which kind of shows how much each of these teams wanted to win. But the referees were not able to control escalating physicality between Nene and Howard (3) On a game-defining play at around the eight-minute mark, a defense rebound opportunity, Nene initiated an arm-grapple with Howard, who pushed back, further entangling the two; Nene wrapped an arm around Howard’s head as the two further engaged and then separated; then Howard raised his arms and jawed toward Nene, who approached, going chest-to-chest, at which point Howard shoved Nene and received what appeared to be the initial technical foul (his second of the game and an ejection). You can watch the exchange on Vine here. Upon further review, the refs decided to assess Nene two technical fouls for his actions, and he was ejected—the slapfight seemed equal but the Wizards received a harsher penalty (4).

Houston, after the scuffle, capped a quick 9-1 run—due to some more unforced turnovers by Washington—with an open Ariza 3-pointer to take a 107-103 lead. But the Wizards, intent on staying true to their desired identity, looked for a quick scoring opportunity. Gortat immediately ran the court and Jared Dudley immediately found him. Back and forth the teams fought. Harden hit some 3s, despite Washington implementing a strategy of doubling him more. And when they did get the ball out of Harden’s hands on a couple possessions, others like Patrick Beverley also nailed 3s. Temple, Sessions, and Wall (twice) each missed what could been very regrettable layups over the last four minutes. But Dudley bullying his way into some free throws, a Wall walk-up 3 when Houston left him wide-open, and better defensive execution along with the Hack-a-Clint-Capela strategy allowed for a 7-0 Wizards run that moved the needle from 117-114, Houston, with 2:41 left to 121-117, Washington, with 1:11 left.

After one of those potentially devastating Wall missed layups, Wittman and his Wizards drew up an amazing ATO play where Dudley went to set a backscreen for Wall, but then turned and cut right to the basket, received the ball from the baseline inbounder, Temple, and scored with Beverley in his wake. The idea must have been to pick on Harden’s poor defensive awareness, and it worked. The Wizards took a 123-119 lead with 37 seconds left and they did not relinquish it despite efforts otherwise from Harden (a counter driving layup and-1). What started with Washington’s desire to reestablish their pace-and-space-and-3-point identity ended with tough rebounding and defense that allowed them to still stay both true to themselves and their coach’s vision. We’ve seen the worst that can happen when disjointed, but when the Wizards can get both prongs extending from one handle and attacking in the same direction, they can be dangerous, or at least be competitive, in any game they play.

  1. One would suspect that Wall’s passive switching, along with other measures such as starting Garrett Temple and tasking him with guarding the other team’s best offensive player, is intended to save Wall, which is understandable.
  2. You could decry Gooden playing over Kelly Oubre, but there is something to be said about Gooden’s relatively in control chaos, rebounding, and 3-point shooting. Oubre will get his chance, particularly taking Gooden’s minutes next season.
  3. The Houston contingent after the game was quite pissed about the referees and how they addressed Dwight Howard; the losing team would have felt the same way regardless.
  4. An unsatisfactory explanation from the referees can be found here via CSN’s J. Michael.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.