Sorcerers Can't Tame Dinosaurs — Wizards vs Raptors, DC Council 34 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Sorcerers Can’t Tame Dinosaurs — Wizards vs Raptors, DC Council 34

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Updated: January 9, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs Raptors, Game 34, Jan. 8, 2016, from the Verizon Center, via Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202).

M.V.P.

Otto Porter led the Wizards to a 26-18 lead after the first period, scoring seven points on 3-for-4 shooting, and he added two rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block, but it was a sequence in the final stanza that earns him the ever-coveted status of M.V.P. in a loss.

The Wizards trailed by double-digits for nearly the entire fourth quarter. With 3:32 on the clock, Washington down 89-77, and the Verizon Center exodus still in its early stages but quickly ramping up, John Wall committed his seventh (and final) turnover. Toronto ran the shot clock all the way down, then Kyle Lowry drove to the hoop, only to be denied by Marcin Gortat. Ramon Sessions scooped up the loose ball and found one Otto Porter streaking down court. Moments later, the majestic lankball wearing No. 22 was soaring through the air—and then, suddenly, he wasn’t. Porter was in part flung to the ground, in part simply deviated from his typical landing rhythm, by way of a shot around the upper body courtesy of Patrick Patterson. The basketballing sphere somehow found its way into the peach basket in the process, but Porter’s right wrist also found its way to the floor well before the rest of Porter did.

The tertiary core member of the Wiz Kids lay writhing on the floor, clutching his favored hand between his knees as the remains of Washington’s in-house fanbase held its breath (or simply proceeded out of the Verizon Center in search of alcoholic comfort on a dreary Friday eve). A few dreadful seconds passed—another injury to a key member of the Wizards, during a surprisingly meaningful January stretch, would surely have Washington buying Powerball tickets this summer—but the formerly bespectacled one eventually made his way back to his feet.

Porter shook off the injury to learn a Flagrant-1 had been called, thus rewarding Washington with possession after the awaiting free throw, which he knocked down. Wall drilled a triple with the bonus possession, therefore turning a Lowry layup attempt into six points for the good guys in just a 20-second span. Not only did Porter help spark a potentially game-saving run, but he managed to preserve his relative health for another game and keep Washington’s hopes alive, for now.

L.V.P.

When you open a 10-point lead in the first quarter then trail by 10 or more for most of the fourth quarter, there is plenty of blame to go around. The onus for Friday night’s facepalm could be evenly divvied among a handful of Wizarding fellows, but the man calling the shots will get the honors this go-round. Drew Gooden was a game-time decision and was a mess in his previous return (#4minutes4fouls4ever), so naturally Randy Wittman brought him in for nearly seven minutes in the first half; he went 1-for-3 with three points, three rebounds, and a team-worst plus/minus of minus-8, while Kelly Oubre played nothing but the final 2:19 in the half (1). Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal played roughly 13 minutes combined in the first half, then they combined to play 17:44 and shoot 12 of Washington’s 21 shots in the fourth period. Jared Dudley started the game, was the only Wizard to play all 12 minutes of the third period (he went 0-for-1 with no points and an assist), then didn’t play in the fourth.

The Raptors played four guys off the bench; each played at least 7:30 in the first half, and three of the four played at least 10 minutes. The Wizards played five guys off the bench; none of their reserves played even 7:30 in the first half, but each starter played at least 17 minutes (only Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played more than 17 minutes for Toronto). Wall played more than seven minutes in all four quarters, including a game-high 20:23 in the first half; he’s averaging 38.0 minutes per game over the past 10 games, and 38.2 over the past five (in which Washington is 1-4), which I’m sure won’t come back to haunt the Wizards later in the season.

Not only does the rotation have absolutely no rhythm and seem to be made up entirely on the fly (2), but Wittman is just racking up minutes on players who are visibly exhausted—see: Wall, John—and aren’t producing. And he’s doing it at the wrong times. He’s playing the hell out of key players in the first half only to watch them limp through the second half, then he gets pissed off when they can’t keep up the intensity, so he throws reserves into the game while the opponent still has its starters, who are mostly fresh, in the game. DeRozan and Lowry combined to play nearly 43 minutes in the second half, and they scored 33 of Toronto’s 50 points; no Wizard played even 20 minutes in the second half and the team managed just 41 points.

Take it away, Randy:

“You guys have heard me say it: It’s hard winning games in this league. It’s not easy. Shit, if it was easy, everybody would do it. It’s hard.”

Oh? But, maybe it becomes a bit easier when you get out in transition, push the pace, work to keep the opposing defense scrambling?

“It’s hard to run for 48 minutes. It’s hard.”

Alright.

X-Factor.

Make no mistake, this game was decided in the third quarter. The teams emerged for the start of the second half knotted at 47, they traded blows for the first few minutes, and then, as TAI’s Kyle Weidie notes, one team added a 50-pound weight to their end of seesaw and the game quickly became lopsided.

While that final eight minutes and change of the third period is what propelled Toronto to a double-digit lead (3), Washington had a chance to steal the game right back. The sequence mentioned above, in which Porter and Wall combined for a six-point possession, brought the Wizards back within six points with 2:50 showing on the clock. A stop and a bucket on the subsequent sequence (say “subsequent sequence” five times fast, I dare you) would have set up a potentially wild finish, but it was not to be. The Raptors outscored the Wizards 8-5 the rest of the way.

Here are some numbers from that fourth quarter: The Raptors had zero assists while the Wizards had four; Toronto committed six turnovers to Washington’s two; the Raptors didn’t grab any offensive rebounds but the Wizards happened across three of them; the Wizards had more fast break points (3-0), points in the paint (6-2), and second chance points (2-0) than the Raptors.

Just looking at those numbers, without any other context whatsoever, one would expect something like a 30-10 quarter in favor of the magic-practitioners. I mean, the Raptors had no assists, offensive rebounds, fast break points, or second chance points, and they turned it over six times! You shouldn’t be able to stay alive after a quarter like that.

The Wizards did win the quarter, but 30-10 it was not. Washington scored 27 points but still allowed the northern foes to scrape together 24 of their own. How? Well, the Raptors lived at the free throw line, hitting eight of their nine attempts. They milked the clock for all it was worth, often waiting until the final five seconds of the shot clock before launching a tough, semi-contest jumper—not a sustainable offensive strategy, unless your two best players are hitting tough, semi-contested jumpers at Kobe Bryant-esque levels. And they were. The Raptors went 7-for-11 from the field in the period (the Wizards went 9-for-21), and Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 20 points in the period. Before a pair of final-touch free throws by Cory Joseph with 14.6 left, the Lowry-DeRozan duo had all but two of Toronto’s points in the period. In fact, those three players were the only dinosaurs to even attempt a shot in the period (Lowry was 3-for-6, DeRozan 3-for-3, Joseph 1-for-2).

It also didn’t help that Washington hoisted a slew of ill conceived jumpers, missed plenty of open looks, and were heartily bullied in the paint by Bismack Biyombo, who blocked three shots in the period (Toronto had five in total in the fourth quarter). But whatever.

On a larger scale, the X-factor this season, and for several season prior, has been a distinct lack of a go-to scorer outside of Wall and Bradley Beal (4). Seven players attempted at least one shot for Washington in the fourth period. Gary Neal and Ramon Sessions led the team with six FGA each (Neal went 1-for-6, Sessions went 4-for-6) in the period—did I mention the Raptors went 7-for-11 as a team in the period?—and Wall went 2-for-5. Nobody else attempted more than one shot in the quarter. Not Porter, who had 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting entering the period. Not Marcin Gortat, who was third on the team in points entering the final frame with eight (on 4-for-10 shooting). No, it was Sessions and Neal, the same Sessions and Neal who went a combined 1-for-8 for three points in the first three periods. They were left to take on the scoring duties.

Meanwhile, here are some other outbursts from around the league Friday night. Lou Williams, reigning Sixth Man of the Year and notorious slayer of Wizards, dropped an absurd 44 points for the Los Angeles Kobe Bryant Retirement Tours in a narrow loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, including 23 in the fourth period. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert—at best the fourth and fifth most valuable offensive players on the Cleveland Cavaliers—combined for a cool 50 points in a blowout win against the Minnesota Youth Movement. Devin Harris dropped 19 off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the 27 combined bench points that John Henson and O.J. Mayo gave the Milwaukee Bucks. The Miami Heat beat the floundering Phoenix Suns thanks in part to 21 off the bench from Gerald Green.

The Wizards don’t have any real, consistent scoring threats they can count on after their core players. Wall’s going to get his 15-to-25 most nights, Gortat and Porter will combine for 20-to-30 or so, and when Bradley Beal returns, he can probably be counted on to roughly match Wall’s scoring output, if not slightly exceed it. And with a fully healthy roster, a bench unit featuring Nene, Sessions, Neal, and Garrett Temple with occasional guest appearances by Oubre, Gooden, Alan Anderson, and Kris Humphries is nothing to scoff at. But there are two things to scoff at there: 1) You’re asking for a consistently clean bill of health from a team that includes Beal, Nene, and Gooden, and 2) None of those players are go-to scorers in the vein of a Lou Williams, J.R. Smith, or Gerald Green.

If Wall has a poor game and Beal is sidelined, you’re now relying on Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal to jump-start your team. Maybe Porter will evolve into more of an aggressive offensive player, but until that happens, the Wizards’ strategy in such games is basically just put in a bunch of mediocre offensive players and hope they figure it out together as a team. That works for the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors, but not many other teams. When elite teams are suffering through off nights from their star players, they generally manage to pull out the win thanks to the fourth or fifth or even sixth guy in the rotation coming through with a 20-point game. It’s not a coincidence that Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers each had at least one really important game over the course of Miami’s two championships in 2012 and 2013. Or that Boris Diaw led the Spurs in assists and Patty Mills averaged 10.2 points in 15.2 minutes per game when they won the Finals in 2014. Or that Andre Iguodala won Finals MVP from the bench when the Warriors won it a year ago.

That Game Was … Deja Vu All Over Again

I’ve used enough words already. Let’s let other people’s words (and a video) take it from here.

  1. He came in and promptly knocked down a 3.
  2. Except in the occasional game in which Wittman seems hellbent on sticking to a rotation that isn’t working.
  3. A Raptors lead as high as 12 in the third, then 14 midway through the fourth.
  4. And calling either of them a “go-to scorer” is perhaps generous.
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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.