That Mirage Looks Mighty Delicious — Wizards at Knicks, DC Council 50 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

That Mirage Looks Mighty Delicious — Wizards at Knicks, DC Council 50

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Updated: February 10, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards at Knicks, Game 50, Feb. 9, 2016, via Sean Fagan (@McCarrick).

M.V.P.

It would be so easy to simply hand the nightly M.V.P over to John Wall (28 points, 17 assists) and call it a day after Washington’s 111-108 win over the New York Knickerbockers. It was Wall who helped the Wizards overcome another lead collapse (this time they coughed away a 16-point advantage) by playing phenomenally in the fourth quarter, hitting two key jumpers (and a backbreaking trey) before sealing off the win by converting all four of his free throw attempts to give the Wizards a three point lead with four ticks left on the clock. Of course, with the #SoWizards lurking, the team then failed to intentionally foul a Knickerbocker and the game would have been sent to overtime had Langston Galloway been able to convert a 3-point attempt at the buzzer. But Wall being the glue that holds this underachieving team together is a narrative that has been explored in depth throughout this disappointing season, and his locker is already filled to the brim with phantom MVPs handed over by the staff of TAI.

Instead, one should turn their attention to the other Wizards starlet whose off and on again appearance on the court has been the source of much handwringing. Since recuperating from another stress fracture, Bradley Beal has (appropriately) been kept under wraps by the Wizards medical staff—his minutes limited and his impact mitigated. Against the Knicks on Tuesday night, Beal was finally set free from the confines of the bench and responded with a 26-point outburst at a tidy rate of 8-for-14 from the field and 5-for-8 from behind the arc. The importance of Beal being able to regain his role as a starter and ramp up his own participation cannot be understated, as the Knicks were forced to compensate for another offensive force beyond John Wall. Further, Beal’s shooting prowess was the high tide that lifted all boats, as the entire starting unit shot over 50 percent on the night (44-61 FGs) and created the spacing necessary for Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter to work at nearly their maximum efficiency.

The one truth to the injury narrative with the Wizards this season has been in regards to Beal. You can throw out Alan Anderson because he was hurt before the season even began. Nene is always going to be a hit or miss proposition and after early promising returns, it soon became clear that Kris Humphries was not a viable solution at the stretch 4 (1). The list of dings (to Drew Gooden, Otto Porter, and Gary Neal) can be further expanded upon, but it is Beal and solely Beal for whom the injury narrative was based.

Garrett Temple has filled in more or less admirably in Beal’s absence, even earning himself a spot on Zach Lowe’s “Luke Walton All Stars.” But as Lowe points out within the piece, Temple’s limitations are obvious enough to allow opponents to strangle the Wizards offensively:

“Temple is shooting just 32 percent from deep, and isn’t much of an off-the-bounce threat. Opponents stash their weakest defender on him, and ignore him away from the ball.”

But in the next paragraph in Temple’s defense:

“But 32 percent on a lot of attempts is better than nothing, and Temple manufactured a bunch of 20-point games when the Wizards badly needed someone other than Wall to put the ball into the freaking basket.”

Lowe’s point holds true, Temple has been a mensch in filling in and performed above and beyond what was expected of him with Beal on the shelf. Arguably, Temple was inserted as a starter simply because the Wizards could not trust either Ramon Sessions or Gary Neal to play defense at a high enough rate to not be lit up like a pinball machine (2). So the offense was always meant to be gravy, it was just surprising how much gravy was ladled out.

But the Wizards offense with Beal in the starting lineup and playing meaningful minutes is a completely different beast. And just as predicted, after a series of soul crushing losses, there are those who immediately have jumped onto their keyboards to proclaim that this is the “real” Wizards team we were promised and that all the doom and gloomers should rest their pixel generators and see how the rest of the season plays out.

To which I say: Hold on there youngster

L.V.P.

The Wizards inability to finish games the right way. (Again!)

As heartening as it is to see Bradley Beal back doing Bradley Beal things, the Wizards still managed once again to surrender a 16-point lead (in the 1st quarter) and a 13-point lead that they held at the half. And as amazing as young rookie Kristaps Porzingis may be, the inability of the Wizards to prevent his 14-point third quarter outburst (including two made 3-pointers,adding to the Wizards defensive woes), and the failure to execute a defensive strategy to contain the young Latvian seems rather befuddling. Even if we set this aside, allowing Kevin Seraphin to eat your lunch and take away your lead is simply unacceptable. Unlike other Wizards projects who have gone on to bigger and better things under better developmental systems, Seraphin’s style of play in New York has not changed in any discernible way. So to watch Seraphin calmly hit the jumpers and putbacks that he was long derided for on the Wizards (he also dished out three assists) was simply rubbing salt in the wounds.

The Wizards have now spent the last three games giving up monumental leads against the shallower end of the Eastern Conference talent pool. That these lead changes happen like clockwork at the end of the second quarter and throughout the third appear to be an indictment on the ability of the Wizards coaching staff to either, A) motivate the team finish off the opponent Karate Kid style and allow us some well deserved Kelly Oubre, B) the failure to tactically adjust to the changes the opponent has made to enable a comeback, or C) some combination of the two. The Wizards didn’t win their game against the Knicks as much as they survived it, thanks in no large part to the coaching debut of Kurt Rambis, whose tenure as the Minnesota HC is spoken with a level of horror one normally reserves for Isiah Thomas running your organization. It was Rambis’ “moves” (leaving Porzingis stapled to the bench to start the fourth quarter, putting the ball in the hands of Langston Galloway to end the game), rather than any Wittman “countermoves” that proved the Knickerbockers undoing. Wittman should be relieved that he got to play checkers against a man whose advanced tactical acumen stopped at tic-tac-toe.

X-Factor.

What now?

If Beal holds up for the rest of the season and is able to build upon Tuesday night, then the starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Gortat, Porter, and Dudley appears to be ideal for the integration of the offensive system that the Wizards have being trying to kickstart without much success since the opening of the season. The question that remains on the table is whether this starting unit will be able to perform consistently enough to carry the Wizards to the 8-seed of the playoffs and a potential matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Currently, the Wizards have a 11.7 percent chance (per ESPN) of making the playoffs and decisions to make about the future of their franchise. With the trade deadline just around the corner, the Wizards have a chance to trade their more valuable (and fungible) assets like Jared Dudley or Gary Neal to teams currently holding a playoff spot for a modest or decent return. However, that type of bottoming out essential eliminates them from the Kevin Durant derby to take place next summer. Just how much more attractive an eighth place playoff team is to potential free agents remains to be seen (3). As of right now, the course that has been charted appears to be to damn the torpedoes and proceed full speed ahead with the personnel assemble. It will be fascinating to see whether or not that is a suicide run.

That game was … a possible mirage.

For all the pundits crowing about the Wizards being a fraud team, the Knicks have been exposed (once) again as a project that is still in development, and that always provides more sizzle that it does steak. A win over a team that has dropped 10 of its last 11 contests doesn’t necessarily move the “hope” meter up than by more than a few notches. As Rashad Mobley pointed out in his recap of the Wizards win over the 76ers last Friday, there are too many false positives to be drawn from a result that should be predetermined. Defeating the Knicks after a brutal loss in Charlotte may appear at first glance to be a step in the right direction, but allowing the Knicks to crawl back from a huge deficit and make a game of it proves that the Wizards continue to exist as a team unable to exert a consistent 48-minute effort. It just remains to be seen on whom that blame should fall for those failures.

  1. Primarily, Humphries failed at the stretch 4 because he’s a terrible defensive combination with Gortat; the Wizards should have seen this coming from miles and miles away.
  2. Temple’s purpose has also been to alleviate some defensive pressure off of John Wall, as Temple usually guards the better offensive threat of the backcourt opponents.
  3. Of course, the chance to bring a title to the championship-starved District could be extremely valuable to one Kevin Durant.
Sean Fagan on FacebookSean Fagan on Twitter
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.