Key Legislature: Wizards 104 at Timberwolves 98 — Reaching Escape Velocity | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 104 at Timberwolves 98 — Reaching Escape Velocity

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Updated: March 4, 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 Timberwolves, Regular Season Game 60, March 2, 2015, by Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)



The Wizards have once again reached the median.

Having dispatched the Minnesota Timberwolves by the score of 104-98, the team is now 30-30 on the year and the media can turn their attention to the all-consuming question of ‘How will the team finally top .500?’ which will undoubtedly be answered by both players and staff alike with pat answers over ‘continuing to play the way we have during the four-game winning streak—by competing hard and giving maximum effort,’ or ‘continuing to focus on tightening up the defense,’ or simply attributing it as Coach Randy Wittman (and owner Ted Leonsis) did after the victory did to ‘health.’

A toast then, to health.

In arguably the nadir of the Wizards season, a 109-104 loss on February 24th to a decimated Chicago Bulls team without any of its primary scorers or facilitators, the hypocrisy of health was somewhat exposed. The Wizards lost that game on multiple fronts—they were outplayed, out-coached, and out-#EffortTalked—and both Wizards players and coaches openly questioned the level of desire on the team. They also talked about taking opponents for granted. On that evening, the health excuse ran out of gas. The Wizards’ cup had runneth over with healthy players, including returning newcomer Alan Anderson and shiny new acquisition Markieff Morris, yet health alone was not enough to fend off the Bulls that evening.

Perhaps what was needed was health plus time plus a break from the narrative.

That break was enjoyed for all of three games during a win streak that included two victories over the moribund Philadelphia 76ers and a surprising win over the Cleveland Cavaliers (without LeBron James), which left noted hedonist J.R. Smith questioning the heart of his own team. Health was mercifully not the driving narrative of these wins—as they were precipitated on the performance of the steadiest (and most healthy) of this season’s Wizards: John Wall and Marcin Gortat.

That respite was short lived, because the victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves once again became a memorandum on health. Two of the most notoriously injured Wizards—Bradley Beal and Alan Anderson—were integral to victory, scoring a combined 44 points as the Wizards’ bench outscored Minnesota’s, 64-18. Beal, still coming off the bench due to a minutes limitation and lingering concern over the stress reactions in his fibula, exploded for 26 points (what amounts to a regular John Wall game these days, for perspective) on 10-for-15 shooting, putting the Wizards ahead for good in the game, 80-77, with 1:14 left in the third quarter via a trademark 3-pointer. By some accounts, Beal is going to remain on the bench for the rest of the season, as he can overwhelm other team’s second units. Keep watching this space—plans are always subject to change (1).

It was Anderson who was the true story of Wednesday night’s win, as the player who gives the most credence to the health plus time equation. Anderson’s performance was a game of two acts that took place in the first and fourth quarters. In the first, with the Wizards once again having dug themselves into an almost inescapable hole by allowing the Timberwolves to take a 21-9 lead, it was Anderson’s driving layup and two 3-pointers that helped erase the T-Pups’ lead and the Wiz cut the deficit to three, 32-29, by period’s end.

In the fourth quarter it was more of the same, with Anderson 3-pointers cutting the sails in the Wolves’ comeback attempt. Over a span of less than a minute, Anderson put the Wolves away for good, securing a defensive rebound with 10:45 remaining and, after two subsequent misses from by Nene at the free throw line (#NeneHands), calmly draining a 3-pointer following a rare and magical Wizards offensive rebound. On the very next offensive possession, Anderson once again took the ball in his hands and converted in the lane to give the Wizards a 90-70 advantage from which they never looked back.

The Wizards are now 6-2 since the All-Star break, tied with those Chicago Bulls for 9th in the Eastern Conference and only 0.5 games from the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot. Analysis can fall into two camps as to the cause for the mini-resurgence.

  1. The first is that the pragmatists were always right and the right tonic for the Wizards was always going to be a combination of health and continuity. Owner Ted Leonis himself stated just on Thursday morning that the Wizards are now finally able to find their way (in regards to rotation and play) due to having their full complement of players. Adding players like Anderson and Morris was going to take a few games and the early returns have been promising with Anderson adding the long-range shooting needed to complement John Wall, and Morris adding the beef inside to take the sole onus of rebounding off the shoulders of Marcin Gortat. The key to the entire experiment will be to see if these projects gel in time to make a final push for the playoffs and, if the Wizards do manage to sneak in, whether they will be able to attain any level of success.
  2. A more nihilistic view is that the Wizards are just now starting to play with any level of urgency and have become a competent basketball team only once the safety net has been removed from underneath the team. Without that safety net, there is little-to-no margin for error, and even the hint of “taking opponents for granted” would be met with open disdain and derision. The one issue is that despite the recent win streak, the Wizards have not played at a level that could be considered “exceptional.” In both wins over the 76ers, the Wizards came close to losing games against a team that is historically bad—in the second win it took a herculean effort from John Wall and a career game from Marcin Gortat to defeat a team that has only won eight games total during the season. The Timberwolves, while sporting their own stars in Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, are as injury-riddled as any team in the league—missing Nikola Pekovic, Nemanja Bjelica, and Kevin Garnett. In words that would sing in Randy Wittman’s ears, Minnesota Coach Sam Mitchell noted that the Wolves “were thin, not that deep. Every time in the game we had a chance, when we went to the bench we had a drop-off.” Despite the injuries, the Wolves were were competitive throughout, getting to the line time and again (the Wolves had 34 free throw attempts to the Wizards’ 13) and exploiting a soft Wizards interior defense.

So your belief in Washington’s season entirely depends on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty. You could point out that the Wizards have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA. They also are (almost) fully healthy and they are playing as a team fresh out of excuses.

And yet, the consistency of play is still not there, and there is little runway left for the WIzards to make an adjustment in case something catastrophic happens. The deeper and more pressing concern is that it has taken 60 games for them to publically proclaim that “this” is the team that was promised after failing to navigate the pitfalls of injuries and waning focus. The problem with the Wizards is still there in sharp focus: they are unmalleable in the face of circumstances beyond their control. To bet on success for the Wizards this season is a Hail Mary thrown at the heavens to ask for continued health. For without it, the Wizards have proven unable to adjust to the slightest of blows.

Now Coach Wittman, how do you plan to get the team over .500?


  1. Jared Dudley speculated, after the recent home win over the Cavaliers, that the Wizards would have to figure out how to integrate Beal back into the starting lineup in due time—meanwhile, it appears that Dudley will go back to assuming a bench role.
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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.