When Tempo Triumphs Over Toughness — Wizards at Bulls, DC Council 36 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

When Tempo Triumphs Over Toughness — Wizards at Bulls, DC Council 36

Updated: January 12, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards at Bulls, Game 36, Jan. 12, 2016 at United Center in Chicago, via Sean Fagan (@McCarrick).


There have been several notable constants throughout the Randy Wittman regime in D.C. When you give as many interviews as Wittman has throughout his tenure, through both good times and bad, certain tics begin to make themselves apparent and stay lodged in the brains of the poor beat reporters who patrol the bowels of NBA arenas. One tic in particular that has resonated throughout is his almost slavish devotion to two ledgers within the box score. Wittman has obsessions with both FG% and turnovers, and it’s upon those statistics that he often credits the results of games. ‘What it boils down to,’ the coach might say.

Fairly or not, when you place a large amount of emphasis upon the latter, praise or blame falls most often at the foot of your point guard. If one had a dollar for each time Wittman has proclaimed that “John has got to do a better job at protecting the ball,” then one would have enough money to pay your rent or start saving for a small bungalow out by BWI. Lately, even in wins where Wall has been offensively brilliant (as in his 24 point performance against the Magic), he has played fast and loose enough with the ball (7 TOs in that Magic game) where criticism could be appropriately leveled at a lack of poise or concentration.

Yet, no criticism can be laid at Wall’s feet after his masterful performance in leading his ragtag Wizards over a surprisingly docile Chicago Bulls. If the Wizards had triumphed over the Bulls at the Verizon Center to the same result, Wittman would have been ebullient, slapping the stat sheet and pointing out that Wall a grand total of two turnovers and his team was miserly with the ball committing only nine turnovers in total. You can see Wittman then dropping a few aphorisms on the importance of “effort” and then stride boldly out of the room, the scrum of reporters dogging at his heels in their race to the locker room.

Wall earns the M.V.P.—not only for being the primary conductor in orchestrating a surprising 114-100 victory over the Bulls—but through his continued offensive excellence, particularly at moments when his team needs it most. After Doug McDermott cut the Wizards lead to four points at 9:33 in the fourth quarter, following a 3-point shot and an ill-advised foul on the part of Gary Neal, it was Wall who started the 13-2 run that enabled the Wizards to pull away and put the game out of reach. Wall first calmly drained a 16-footer over the heads of the Bulls, who seemed content to continue going underneath picks to let Wall shoot. Following a Joakim Noah offensive foul, Wall then picked apart the Bulls defense and found Nene cutting on a seam for an easy layup. To cap off his performance, Wall went on to drain a 24-footer (with an assist from Jared Dudley) over a defense that still had yet to process that they were not guarding Rajon Rondo.

There is a strong impetus to pick apart this Wizards season and declare it a failure because the team has not met expectations, and every other game appears to be an exercise in motivational futility on the part of Randy Wittman. The one thing that has kept the Wizards within reach of the playoffs in an below average Eastern Conference (and Wittman in his job) is Wall, who continues to reframe his ability to shape a basketball game on a nightly basis.


If someone needs to be shamed on the evening, let the shame fall upon Gary Neal, whose foul on Doug McDermott left the door open for the Bulls in the fourth quarter. Yet, Neal went 4-for-9 from the field and contributed two of the Wizards’ 10 steals. So he need not be shamed.

If someone needs to be shamed, let the shame fall upon Kelly Oubre, who went 1-for-7 from the field. Yet, Oubre converted an amazing alley-oop (from Gary Neal) and added two hellacious blocks. So he need not be shamed either.

Instead, let us turn to the opposition and point to Chicago’s Joakim Noah as the least valuable player.Noah played a scant 19 minutes, went 0-for-7 from the field, and had one of his offerings to the basket firmly rejected by John Wall. It is both saddening and satisfying to see Noah’s fall from dominance, from the player who once patrolled the halls of the Verizon Center exclaiming expletives over the state of the Wizards, to the shell of the defensive presence he once was in his hey-day. But maybe Noah deserves a break, too, as Monday was his first action after missing nine games. Then again, maybe not.


Engines are slow to start up in the winter (even in these El Nino-infected environs), and it has been a fitful start for Nene, who has spent much of this season behind the bench wearing a suit rather than within the paint. However, when the stars align and the proper offerings are made to Basketball Gods to allow Nene to perform the act of “basketball,” his importance to the Wizards can’t be understated. In a scant 20 minutes of play, Nene went 7-for-11 from field and kept the Wizards vibrational intensity at a low buzz, acting as a second playmaker to John Wall.

Perhaps the Wizards woes over the season can be seen as yawning lack of craftiness, a skill which only a few other players (Jared Dudley and Wall) are able to replicate. Against a team where ball movement, trickery, and an occasional flop were not only desired but necessary, Nene’s caginess were a key ingredient toward success.

That game was … perhaps a mirage?

Beating the Bulls could be seen as the start of something great for the Wizards, or it could viewed as a one-off, a pleasant blip in a season filled with disappointment. What is apparent is that for the Wizards to win on a consistent basis, they need to perform at a nearly flawless level and not at the status of a half operational Death Star. The ball movement for the Wizards and the engagement of the players within the system was probably the best we have seen out of the injury-ravaged squad on the season lacking Bradley Beal.

The question is therefore one of sustainability and whether the Wizards can continue to play at this level with this many injuries and the fluctuating #Effort from all involved wearing red, white, and blue. Without Beal, without Nene (50% of the time), and now without Marcin Gortat, the Wizards’ room for error is razor thin if not non-existent. Too many times this season we have seen the team play above their heads and defeat a opponent superior on paper – only to string together consecutive losses when things fall apart. On Wednesday, the Wizards face a Milwaukee Bucks team struggling with the same issues of consistency and a team Washington has already beaten twice, coming off a back-to-back against these same Chicago Bulls. A win in the same fashion would point toward a more pleasant spring ahead, a loss a return to the status quo.


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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.