Opening Statements: Wizards vs Heat, Game 41 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Heat, Game 41

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Updated: January 20, 2016

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Teams: Wizards vs Heat
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 5 points


On Tuesday afternoon, preeminent NBA scribe Zach Lowe published his preferred rosters for both the Eastern and Western squads in this year’s All-Star game. In the backup guard role, Lowe slotted John Wall (behind Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler) but had some harsh criticism of Washington’s premier point guard, enough for an argument against his selection:

“He (Wall) started slowly, he’s shooting just 44 percent, the Wiz are 19-21 in a make-or-break season and Wall has played a hand in their decline on defense. He has been a bit casual on that end. The Wiz are switching more this season, and when Wall spots his man about to crisscross with someone else, he’ll lazily stand up straight—assuming his teammate will do all the work of switching, while Wall just sticks with whichever opponent is closest. Other teams have noticed, and they are exploiting those flat-footed moments with smart cuts and passes.”

If this seems out of step with the series of Council M.V.P.’s that Wall has received on this site, Lowe quickly defends his decision by pointing out that the Wizards, due to a series of injuries, would be well and truly sunk without Wall and that it is through his play that the team has managed to more or less stay afloat. In the words of Lowe:

“But the Wiz might be dead without Wall. A team redesigned for small ball has gotten 20 games total from Bradley Beal and Alan Anderson. Nene has been in and out with his usual case of Nene-ness, and just about every other key player—Marcin Gortat, Kris Humphries, Otto Porter—has missed time. On some nights, you look at the lineups Randy Wittman is tossing out, and you have no clue how the Wiz are even competitive.”

It is the last sentence of Lowe’s statement that bears analysis, particularly in consideration of tonight’s game against the Miami Heat. If the Wizards have spent a majority of the season with the cupboard bare, then isn’t it miraculous that at the halfway mark of the season the team is still hovering around .500 despite a series of afflictions that would have made even Job weep? You can take Lowe at face value—that the Wizards roster is so stricken, it’s amazing that they (due to the play of John Wall) are even in games. Or you could choose to read into the statement and see an implicit criticism of the lineups that Wittman is using (as in, how can you leave Jared Dudley on the court for 41 minutes in a loss?) and how the coach distributes the minutes amongst the healthy bodies.

It seems that, despite the ironclad narrative that the “Wizards are too hurt,” the drumbeats of criticism surrounding Randy Wittman continue to get louder by the day. Some observers question whether the team has begun to tune out the coach and will point to the dreaded “body language,” or the fact that the Wizards continue to tumble down the slope of defensive metrics. (Once a top 10 defensive team, the Wizards are now clutching onto to 20th place in the league.) Following a recent three-game winning streak, the Wizards dropped a close game to Boston at home (in which some observers (me) questioned Wittman’s lineups decisions) and followed up that loss by getting blown out by the Portland Trail Blazers on M.L.K. Day. Again, the drumbeats proceeded to get louder, as many questioned why the Wizards were not “ready to play” against a West Coast team playing a 2 p.m. EST game.

Surprisingly, none of of this criticism dogs Wittman’s Miami Heat counterpart, Erik Spoesltra, who is bringing his own injury-ravaged squad to the Verizon Center this evening. Spoelstra will be without his two point guards, Goran Dragic and Beno Udrih, and two useful members of his bench (Josh McRoberts and Chris Andersen) are sidelined with knee injuries. The Heat dropped a demoralizing game to the Bucks (1) last night, 91-79, and Miami has lost five of their last six games, yet the same questions about job performance do not hover around the Heat coach. (He has won a couple NBA titles, after all.)

Perhaps it’s a question of accountability. Wittman, when questioned after a loss this year, has been quick to point to the lack of healthy bodies as a reason that the Wizards were unable to compete. #WithoutBrad could be its own hashtag, solely due to the number of times the phrase has escaped Wittman’s lips.

“Who else do I have? I don’t have any other options right now,” he’s said. “And it’s hard to get a lot of minutes there, I mean he’s on a restriction, Brad’s on a restriction, and then you have Hump (Humphries) and Otto [Porter] out, those are your other options at the forward, so we got to make due. That’s not an excuse, I’m not making an excuse, we’ve played like this before.”

Actually, that sounds like a terminal case of C.Y.A. (covering your ass).

Spoelstra, by contrast, tends to turn the criticism of his team’s performance upon himself and how he needs to find different methods to achieve positive outcomes. As relayed by ESPN reporter Mike Wallace following the loss to Milwaukee, Spoelstra had this to say:

“You have to find other ways,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the shooting struggles, particularly on a night when the Heat were without Dragic and Beno Udrih to guide the offense. “Some of them I didn’t have a problem in the second half. You can tell when it’s an open shot, whether there’s a rhythm to it. We missed some of those. And you build on those. And we also had frustrating offensive possessions.”

Or you might be able to boil the differing levels of criticism down to familiarity fatigue. There has always been a certain level of disenchantment with Wittman, as the Wizards decided to replace Flip Saunders from within the staff rather than look for the next “best and brightest” coach. Years later, despite two appearances in the second round of the playoffs, there are many who feel that the Wizards could “do better” in the coaching department. Spoelstra, on the other hand, has a firewall built up around him due to his five NBA Finals appearances and his three NBA titles. Miami fans (what few there are) have long enough memories to remember Spoelstra’s abilities to not only manage superstar egos but also create a diverse offensive and defensive philosophy that uniquely suits the need of his personnel.

Either way, tonight’s game in Washington promises to be more of a coaching clinic rather than a simple summary of “who has more healthy bodies.” It is one of the rare instances this year that either coach can stare across the sidelines and know that his counterpart is operating under the same exact conditions. In Spoelstra’s words, each coach will “have to find other ways” to get the most out of what remains on the bench. The result, in turn, might be a fair assessment of either coach’s ability as we draw closer to the All-Star break.


  1. A team the Wizards beat just last week.
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Sean Fagan
Reporter / Writer/Gadfly at TAI
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Sean has contributed to TAI since the the dawn of Jan Vesely and has been on the Wizards beat since 2008. His work has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo and SI.com. He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.