Key Legislature: Wizards 92 at Bucks 99 — Misconception and Miscommunication in Milwaukee | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 92 at Bucks 99 — Misconception and Miscommunication in Milwaukee

Updated: February 15, 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 Bucks, Regular Season Game 51, Feb. 11, 2015, by Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)

With just 33 seconds remaining in regulation and the Wizards trailing the Milwaukee Bucks 95-90, John Wall stepped up and launched his 12th 3-pointer of the game, a shot that harmlessly glanced off the rim and settled gently into the hands of Bucks center Greg Monroe. The Milwaukee players immediately raced to the other end of the floor and on resulting play, in which the active Khris Middleton (27 points, 9 assists) found Monroe on an easy hand-off drive and put the Bucks up 97-90 with 14 seconds remaining. Steve Buckhantz (1), whose voice had rarely risen to the level of “engaged” throughout the broadcast, then offhandedly pronounced “Annnnnd that’s the backbreaker.” So it was. The Wizards went on to lose the game, 99-92, and stumbled into the All-Star break with a record of 23-28 and three games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. #WizardsTwitter grumbled and #SoWizards tweets flew throughout the pixelverse with sour notes of dread.

It wasn’t until after the game that a key piece of information was revealed to the reporters on site and the internet at-large: John Wall had banged knees with O.J. Mayo in the first quarter and the resulting soreness forced Wall into settling for jump shots rather than his usual slashing and dishing style that disrupts defenses. Wall asserted that he would see physicians and that he would be a “go” for the All-Star game unless he “couldn’t move.” Well fine, I thought at this point, if the Wizards’ best player was hobbled throughout the game, it is no wonder that they lost—without their engine (and bereft of a gameplan that is so reliant on Wall’s ability to get into the lane and create havoc), it makes sense that the entire operation would fall apart.

There is a literal mountain of information to sift through the statement that John Wall was banged up after the first quarter. The first question: Why Wall was left on the court to play 41 minutes with his ability to drive reduced to nil? Surely the Wizards had learned their lesson with Bradley Beal and would want to protect their franchise cornerstone from any possible aggravation, right? If the Wizards were bound to drop this game, better to let Ramon Sessions play out the string and get Wall to the locker room to be treated. Secondly, if Wall had failed to relay his discomfort to the coaching staff, they should have been able to intuit some level of such from  the 12 3-point shots  he took. This was literally double the amount of attempts that his sharper shooting running mate, Beal, attempted on the night, and enough proof that Wall’s game was not up to snuff for the task at hand. Then one glances at the the total minutes Beal played on the night—37 (what minutes restriction?)—and the entire fiasco becomes a hodgepodge of misinformation and confusion from which a few conclusions can be deduced.

The first is the underlying injury narrative which has been put forth by the Wizards organization and many media members throughout the season. With this narrative firmly in place, it allows the team to excuse poor performance and protect its investments. Yet, if that were the case, why were Wall and Beal on the floor for a combined 78 minutes? One would think that a fanbase would be willing to accept a loss in a discouraging season without risking the health of its two foundational building blocks. The Wizards want to have their cake and eat it too—excuse any loss through the inactive bodies, yet point to the exceptionalism of its own players when they manage to pull through and win a game.

The second conclusion—and it is one that may bear even more criticism (though the health of Wall and Beal is paramount)—is that Coach Randy Wittman felt that he had to have this game, and so deployed his charges as if it were a playoff battle. The criticism on this side can then be levelled at the Wizards “style” of play and their inability to counter the stratagems of the Bucks. With Wall banged up, did it really make sense to unleash 32 shots from behind the arc with little ball movement? With 2:05 left on the clock, was the best-designed play for the Wizards a contested jump shot by Bradley Beal?  Why didn’t the Wizards reset for a play after a John Wall steal with 1:30 remaining instead of once again allowing Wall to fire an errant 3? In summary, if the game was to be coached like a playoff game, why did the everything come completely off the rails in the fourth quarter and have all the energy of a preseason contest against the 76ers? If the game wasa “must-have” from the vantage point of the Wizards coaching staff, then why were there no adjustments made after it became obvious that Wall was a shell of his normal self?

A pragmatist will point out that the Wizards played a much more solid game on the defensive end of the court, pressuring the Bucks into bad shots and building off their defense to erase an 11-point deficit in the second quarter. But once again the issue is consistency and the inability for the Wizards to adjust the variables that can take place within 48 minutes on a basketball court. When Randy Wittman is quoted after the game as saying, “We didn’t attack. … Bradley did the last couple of minutes and he got to the rim. We didn’t do enough of that in the fourth quarter,” then an immediate response should be ‘Why the hell not?’ Whose job is it therefore to get the Wizards to attack the basket rather than continue to settle for long-range attempts early in the shot clock? The onus isn’t on the players, it is on the coaching staff to convey the gameplan during timeouts and throughout the game. If that message was indeed relayed, and instead readily ignored, then the Wizards have a much larger problem on theirs hands than a simple failure to execute.

One can only assume that Wizards wanted to enter the All-Star break with some sense of cohesion. Instead, the crystal ball continues to remain cloudy; there is little sense of a workable plan. The rotations remain incoherent (the starting rotation dominated but played a whopping 20 minutes together); the game plan changes on a daily basis; and the stubborn, mulish failure to adapt persists from game to game. The bottom line that many want to draw is that the Wizards are simply not as good as they were hyped up to be, and that the inability of the personnel has led to overblown expectations. Yet the reality is much more complicated, because if the Wizards were simply a “bad” team (like the 76ers) or a team with some serious intra-squad issues (like the Suns) then that theory might stick. The problem is that there have been enough bright spots throughout the season that make the listlessness of the team as whole—and on again off again #EffortTalk—more damning. The Wizards now have a week to take stock and see whether this experiment is worth continuing. One can only hope that some sort of consensus is reached before the season truly starts circling the drain.

  1. Both Buckhantz and Chenier seemed almost eerily quiet throughout the broadcast, as there were several moments throughout the second and fourth quarters where nothing at all was said. They, too, seem to need an All-Star break
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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 He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.