Washington Goes Out (Again) With a Whimper — Wizards vs Cavs, DC Council 33 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Washington Goes Out (Again) With a Whimper — Wizards vs Cavs, DC Council 33

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Updated: January 7, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs Cavaliers, Game 33, Jan. 6, 2016, from the Verizon Center, via Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks).

M.V.P.

Seven turnovers (six in the first half) is enough to disqualify most any man from contention for this kind of award, so apologies to John Wall, who played a fairly brilliant second half of basketball.

Instead, this goes to everyone’s favorite utility infielder and eye-test hustleman, Garrett Temple. Temple is Washington’s starting 2 guard while Bradley Beal sits on the shelf nursing his third stress reaction in as many years. And although the results have been mixed, Temple has carved out little ways to be effective. He’s not the gauze bandage, or even the Band-Aid, that the Wizards need, but he’s two hands placed firmly on the wound in Washington’s side as we all assure ourselves that the losses oozing through will eventually clot.

Against the Cavaliers, Temple did his best Trevor Ariza impression, spotting up behind the arc and finding ways to get to the basket. All of Temple’s shots were 3-pointers (3-for-5) or points in the paint (4-for-5). On one drive, Temple came at the hoop from an awkward angle, suddenly finding himself staring down LeBron James. But instead of passing out of the matchup, Temple caught LeBron overplaying him, and hung in the air long enough to get foul shots out of an unlikely scoring opportunity.

But in a non-overtime game in which the opposing team scores 121 points, there’s always room for criticism. Although Temple was one of just two Wizards (Otto Porter was the other) on the positive end of the plus/minus spectrum (team-high plus-7), he fell victim to one of Washington’s great 2015-16 ills. In the fourth quarter, Temple shifted off of J.R. Smith to help his teammates play interior defense, leaving Smith open in the corner. Of course, as has been the case all season, the Cavs recognized Temple’s absence, found Smith in the corner, and all involved watched Smith bury one of his game-high five 3-pointers.

L.V.P.

There is no obvious lowercase goat (there are many subtle goats). As loathe as I am to pick on Gary Neal in his first game back from an injury that has kept him on the bench for the last several weeks, his defense was abominable. Excuses abound, of course: he’s working back into game shape, no one can be held accountable for what Kyrie Irving does to them, the help defense was slow, other players failed to close off driving lanes.

But still, there’s Gary, flash-fried, served like a whole fish at a Cuban restaurant, mouth agape. Somewhere in a time-traveller’s millisecond in the future is Kyrie Irving, having already scored on Neal a thousand times in his mind, scoring on him again as this particular branch of the universe freezes and cracks off of the cosmostree.

Neal didn’t ask for or deserve the whooping Irving put on him, but it did happen, and so here we are. In the critical fourth quarter, where Neal himself shot well enough on offense to reasonably expect to stem the tide (4-for-6 in 10 fourth-quarter minutes), Irving went to work. Irving made eight fourth quarter baskets, and Neal was involved in the failed defense of seven of those. Neal failed to cut off Irving’s lane on help defense twice (and one particularly egregious example saw Irving driving against Jared Dudley while Neal merely extended his arm from six feet away as if requesting a kiss on the pinky finger). On five other occasions, Irving scored while Neal was actively attempting to guard him. Again, it’s hard to fault Neal here, given Irving’s talent. Additionally, Washington’s #neverforget (to switch) defense certainly let the Cavs pick on him. But on the other hand: it all happened.

X-factor.

Nene’s 10-minute return was mostly a boon.

On one second-quarter play, Sessions joined Nene in trapping Matthew Dellavedova on the sideline, forcing the much smaller Delly to turn the ball over trying to get a pass around the “Brazilian Gladiator” (blame Gortat, not me). In fact, Nene did something the Wizards have struggled to do all season: he flew around the interior of the defense, cutting off driving lanes and trapping ball-handlers at angles that forced the play to reset.

This was good.

In the fourth quarter, where Nene got some additional minutes, the game started to unravel. It wasn’t necessarily Nene’s fault, but he’s at his least effective when a guard already has a full head of steam coming off a pick-and-roll, and Nene’s job as the shepherd of Washington’s defense predicates that he set the terms of engagement prior to that point in the play. In the fourth, the Cavs’ penetrating perimeter players and drive-and-kick offense, mixed with a few edge-of-the-knife misses by the Wizards, ate the team whole. Nene included.

After the game, Jared Dudley was impressed by Nene’s return, saying that Nene’s minutes were the first five-on-five action the big man had seen since his unceremonious exit, and that were their roles switched, he (Dudley) would have taken two to three weeks to work back into enough shape to be as physical as Nene was.

And yet, despite a nice slam, and an impressive layup that looked almost as guaranteed as a bank deposit, Nene still couldn’t hit his free throws. Such is the predictable life of a Washington Wizard. More on that below.

That Game Was … a macaroni “L” on a string necklace.

You hope that the Wizards will get tired of getting their asses kicked.

In the meantime, the avenues by which each ass-kicking rolleth downhill are exhaustingly predictable. The Wizards will help onto players who are already covered (leaving opposing shooters on the perimeter to fire away). The Wizards will let perimeter players into the key for something like Kyrie Irving’s 18 points in the paint while being far too polite to dissuade players from coming back still hungry like it’s the buffet line at the Golden Corral in Akron. The Wizards will switch every damn time on defense (They’re a switching team now, dontcha know?). Smart teams will know how to exploit that.

Second-year coach David Blatt knew how to exploit that last night, as the Cavs ran a screener right at Wall early in the play. Whether it was Dellavedova or Tristan Thompson, that player would latch onto Wall, “forcing” the Wizards to switch Gary Neal, or Nene, or another player of the Cavs’ choosing onto Irving rather than force Irving into a battle with Washington’s best defender, Wall (of course it’s Wall).

As Jared Dudley put it after the game, the Wizards knew what they were getting into, but still weren’t able to counter the Cavs attack: “basically we didn’t do anything to make them uncomfortable, we didn’t take anything away. The guys that normally scored for them scored. The guys that normally did the dirty work did it.”

The Wizards will miss free throws, they’ll experiment with rotations. They’ll fail to adjust within the boundaries of every individual game and roll out Pace-n-Space for Dummies (now with more turnovers!) if you give them time. They’ll promise to review their mistakes and do better. Coaching, here, would be a godsend.

Most insidiously, they’ll rely completely on an All-NBA incarnation of John Wall, surging when he’s surging, and getting obliterated when he’s struggling. This, too, is predictable, as it has been the case for years, albeit in less plain terms. The Wizards were able to tread water in December almost entirely because Wall was superhuman.

Should the Wizards rest a game-weary Wall? They actually can’t. The Wizards have won 15 games this year. ESPN’s Real-Plus Minus wins measure says Wall is responsible for 5.3 of those wins all by his lonesome. Wall ranks 14th in the NBA in that measure, and is the only player from a losing team in the top 20. Anthony Davis is ranked 21st, and that guy’s the future of the league (shout-out to Pam McGee)! In other words: fuck.

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.