Key Legislature: Wizards 98 vs Pistons 86 — Amid Confusion, There is Defense | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 98 vs Pistons 86 — Amid Confusion, There is Defense

Updated: February 20, 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. Pistons at Wizards, Regular Season Game 53, Feb. 19, 2016, by Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202) from the Verizon Center, D.C.

It’s not much, but it’s a start. The Wizards have won two games in a row to open the unofficial second half of the season. And while both wins have come against teams that can hardly be considered powerhouses, both have been simultaneously convincing and reassuring. A 14-point win on Friday night over the Utah Jazz gave way to a 12-point win on Saturday night over the Detroit Pistons, and suddenly the Wizards look awfully similar to the team that jumped out to a 19-6 start last year. Perhaps no similarity to last year’s Wizards is more prevalent than the defensive resurgence the squad has enjoyed over the first 27 hours or so of the post-All-Star break season. A defense-first team in recent years, Washington hasn’t been able to stop anybody this season—opponents have scored at least 100 points against Washington 33 times, and they’ve scored exactly 99 five more times—until now.

The Wizards held both the Jazz and Pistons below 90 points; it was the fifth and sixth time all year they’ve held an opponent below 90, and the first time they’ve done it in back-to-back nights (1). After the game, a few themes circulated the locker room. Sure, plenty of questions were asked about Markieff Morris, the Wizards’ newest addition who, if Wizards superlatives were to be voted upon, would be named Most Likely To End Up A Scapegoat In April. And there was just as much discussion about the All-Star break providing the team with much-needed rest and time to heal, and about whether the Wizards were getting desperate, and about how the players were coping with a brutal three-games-in-three-days stretch. But ultimately, one theme, or word, rather, triumphed above the rest in the brief period between the final whistle and the Wizards boarding a plane to Miami.

“From an offensive standpoint, our defense created our offense to start the game, and that gets us going,” Randy Wittman said about the Wizards’ defense.

“It’s real satisfying, it’s the catalyst of what we’ve done,” Wittman added later. “I mean, that’s why we’ve won in the fashion we’ve won in. We played, you know, as well as we could offensively tonight. First quarter was pretty good and we’ve had our ups and downs, and usually when we have our ups and downs offensively this year, with this team, water was coming on board. So when we play defense like that, it gives you an opportunity to have a 15-point fourth quarter and win by double digits.”

“We’re defending. We’re defending well, we’re running, we’re scrambling and we’ve got a lot of energy,” Marcin Gortat said, adding that “nothing” has changed with Washington’s defensive philosophy, the energy is just better.

“I think it’s effort. I think that schemes haven’t changed … We’re making good adjustments on the fly, which we’ve struggled doing that,” Jared Dudley said about the defense, later saying “guys are holding each other more accountable.”

“Just effort and communication, that’s all it is,” Wall theorized on the Wizards’ improved defense. “Just effort and communication,” he affirmed.

It could be the much-needed rest Wall and the rest of the team was granted for the All-Star break that has inspired such, um, inspired play, especially on the defensive side of things. Or maybe it’s an uptick in morale now that the players have tangible proof the front office is making an active effort to improve the team and not simply throw the year away in preparation for the summer. Maybe the team got together over the break and hashed out some of their problems or concerns. Or perhaps the more pessimistic but still very possibility reality: This is just a fluke. After all, a pair of wins, at home, against teams with a combined 53-55 record is by no means necessarily indicative of a turnaround or a realization of previous flaws.

But it doesn’t feel fluky. With the exception of the fourth quarter against the Pistons, Washington has outscored its opponents in seven of eight quarters since the break. Each win has felt earned, and while purists might say every win is earned, that’s not how it felt earlier in the season, when a few victories seemed to simply fall into Washington’s lap as it picked its nose and ate paste on the sideline. Of course, that nose-picking and paste-eating is the primary reason the Wizards are in their current position—even after the most recent pair of wins, the Wizards are statistically still more likely to miss the playoffs than make them—and the team’s nonchalance has been its worst enemy all season.

Friday night provided a different scene. With the Wizards up by 15 at halftime, the third quarter seemed an ideal time to give up a run and let the Pistons back in the game. Two weeks ago, a safe bet would have been for Detroit to outscore Washington in the period by double digits. Instead, the home team came out just as strong in the third as it did in the first, never letting the Pistons creep back into the game and maintaining a double-digit lead throughout. Each time the Pistons seemed to pick up a shred of momentum, the Wizards retaliated with a bucket on the other end, then usually came up with a stop the next time down the court. By the end of the third, Washington had upped its lead to 22 points.

The Wizards were outscored by 4.0 points per third quarter throughout January, the worst mark in the NBA. Only the Los Angeles Lakers, who went 3-14 in the month, had a worse total plus/minus for the month, barely edging Washington’s minus-60 at minus-64. Over the past two games, the Wizards are plus-8 in the third quarter, which is nothing to write home about, but the fact that they aren’t coming out flat after halftime is a huge step in the right direction.

As for the other notable storyline, Markieff Morris’ debut, the consensus was that the former Phoenix Sun did about all he could be expected to do with basically zero time spent with the team. He was only cleared to play less than an hour before the opening tip, and his minutes in the first half were spent fighting off some visible jitters.

So what did everybody think about Markieff’s first game?

Wittman: “Good! I mean, the guy has no idea what we’re doing … I just told him, ‘Hey, just go out there and play like it’s a pickup game.’ But I thought he was fine. He’s gonna be fine. He’s an intelligent player, good basketball IQ, good size. We can do some different things with him from a defensive standpoint that we haven’t had the luxury to do. So I see a lot of good things.”

Gortat: “I think he was completely lost.”

Morris, on being “thrown out there”: “I wouldn’t call it ‘thrown out there,’ but I felt good.”

Other Stuff

  1. They did it in back-to-back games on Nov. 28 and Dec. 1. They lost the first of those games, 84-82, to the Toronto Raptors.
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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.