Key Legislature: Wizards 100 at Nuggets 116 — The Ship Be Sinking | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 100 at Nuggets 116 — The Ship Be Sinking

By
Updated: March 13, 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 Nuggets, Regular Season Game 65, March 12, 2016, by Rashad Mobley (@rashad20).

Coaches and players rarely admit this, but there are good losses and bad losses. There are moral victories in some losses, as well as teachable moments that give quality coaches the opportunity to “coach up” their team. Then there are bad, inexcusable losses that leave coaches, players, and fans absolutely flummoxed.

The Wizards have not had any moral victory-type losses recently, but they do have mounting experience with the losses of the bad variety—not exactly the type of trait a playoff team should have in its arsenal. Two weeks ago, the Wizards were beaten by a depleted Chicago Bulls team, and that felt dangerously close to the pits. Two nights ago, in what John Wall proclaimed to be a “must-win” situation, the Wizards lost to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City by 21 points, teetering near the edge of the Land of Rock Bottom.

Thanks to Saturday night’s 116-100 loss to a 28-38 Denver Nuggets team, there is much clearer picture of what rock bottom looks like, and the Wizards are there, for now.

In the first quarter, Washington was fortunate that the game was even close. Only Garrett Temple (10 first-quarter points) seemed to realize that the game needed to be played with a sense of urgency. He hit every shot he took (3-for-3 shooting from the field, including 2-for-2 from 3) and he was active on defense by fighting over picks and keeping his hands and arms somewhere in the passing lanes. No other Wizard was able to truly get untracked:

  • Marcin Gortat picked up two fouls in three minutes and was benched;
  • Markieff Morris shot an airball and took other quick shots that broke the flow of the offense;
  • Otto Porter played so-so with four points and two steals; and
  • John Wall had three points and five assists.

The Wizards as a team shot 37 percent in the opening period.

Those would be serviceable numbers on a Wednesday night in January when the bulk of the season is stacked along the road ahead, but the Wizards are fighting to gain entry into the playoffs. The Nuggets also turned the ball over nine times in the quarter (16 times in the first half), but they shot 57 percent, which is why they led 27-23 after 12 minutes.

These trends continued in the second quarter. No one Wizard was able to put together a forceful performance on offense. J.J. Hickson, filling for Gortat, had four points, as did Wall and Ramon Sessions, and Otto Porter had five. But the Wizards shot just 35 percent, the Nuggets continued to shoot well (50%) and turned the ball over even more (seven). Denver’s lead at halftime was just two points.

The Nuggets have no shot at making the playoffs this season, so their mediocre play was expected. The Wizards were allegedly in a fight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and, once again, played down to their opponent’s level.

The third quarter, which has generally been the litmus test for whether the Wizards will win or lose a game this season, seemed to be the panacea for the Wizards’ first-half malaise. Temple lost the shooting mojo he had in the first quarter, but he passed it on to his doppelgänger, Otto Porter. Porter was perfect from the field, he converted on one of his two three-point play attempts, and showed some rare emotion as the Wizards went from trailing by two to leading by 11.

Wall (who played the entire third quarter) stopped being deferential and started driving to the basket, and Hickson scored eight points, torching Jusef Nurkic (who soon after returned the favor by torching the Wizards the entire second half). The Wizards raised their shooting percentage from the high .300s to .650 and held the Nuggets to just 33 percent shooting. Despite playing without Gortat (who picked up his fourth foul 90 seconds into the third quarter), the Wizards led 83-75 heading into the final period.

Then came the fourth quarter collapse.

But before we delve into that collapse, it is important to take a closer look at the personnel on the floor during that time. The Nuggets—save for two minutes from Gary Harris and 12 seconds from JaKarr Sampson—played their reserves throughout the game. That lineup consisted of Will Barton, Darrell Arthur, Axel Toupane (who was on the last day of his 10-day contract), notorious Wizards-killer D.J. Augustin, and a Wizards-killer in-the-making, Nurkic. Washington went with a nine-man rotation of Nene, Ramon Sessions, Jared Dudley, Marcus Thornton, and the starters—minus Gortat who never saw another minute after he picked up that fourth foul.

The seemingly makeshift Nuggets lineup shot 66 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point land. Augustin not only outplayed Wall, but he imitated him by amassing 11 points and seven assists in the fourth quarter alone. When he didn’t have a shot, he’d find Arthur or Toupane beyond the arc, or he’d simply give the ball to Nurkic, who scored on consecutive dunks in the fourth quarter to give the Nuggets their first lead since the third quarter. Nene, much like J.J. Hickson, did not have the answer for Nukric, and Gortat, who might have had the answer, was the forgotten man on the bench.

The Wizards, starters and bench players, could not stop the Nuggets on D, nor could they generate any type of offense of their own. From the 11:14 mark when Wall hit a pull-up jumper to give the Wizards a nine-point lead to the 4:55 mark when the Wizards trailed by nine points, they were outscored 23-5 in a must-win game. Nene and Porter committed offensive fouls, Wall and Thornton missed jumpers, and the pick-and-roll play—the one Wall and Gortat are often so successful in running—was nowhere to be found. Wall took three shots in the fourth quarter, and Gortat didn’t play. In fact, the Wizards as a team made just 4-of-14 shots and turned the ball over nine times. There was no offense, no defense, no urgency, no coaching adjustments, no ejections for motivation—just a steady diet of Denver Nuggets backups. Even Phil Chenier was confused at Washington’s strategy when he said, “We’ve talked about those situations before when you still have plenty of time [on the shot clock], but you take quick shots and you don’t put a lot of pressure on the opponent’s defense.”

The postgame quotes from Randy Wittman and the other Wizards players were not quite as damning as they were after the Jazz game, but they weren’t exactly the quotes of a playoff-bound team, either.

“For three quarters we accomplished a lot of things we wanted to accomplish. That fourth quarter, we fell apart and didn’t do anything we wanted to.” —Randy Wittman

“In the fourth quarter, they learned how to pick-and-roll and that’s it. Augustin did a heck of a job of running the offense. They just ran out there on the pick-and-roll and Augustin was getting to the free-throw line He was scoring and making plays.” —John Wall

“A lot of dribbling and not a lot of passing, moving it side to side and in and out.” —Wittman

“We just got a little complacent and left our foot off the gas.” —the newly acquired J.J. Hickson

The loss left the Wizards two and a half games behind ninth place Chicago, three and a half behind the eighth place Detroit Pistons, and just two games ahead of the Orlando Magic, who currently reside in 11th place. The nugget of good news that can be mined from this situation is that Washington’s next four games are against the Pistons, Bulls, Sixers, and Knicks—teams the Wizards have gone 7-2 against so far this season. If Alan Anderson and Bradley Beal are able to play significant, meaningful minutes, perhaps they can make up ground in the Eastern Conference and sneak in the playoffs after all. Sounds pretty good, right?

But the more realistic outlook to have is this: the Wizards are simply not deserving of a postseason berth. Coach Wittman has left Gortat rotting on the bench two games in a row, and he failed to be a catalyst for any offensive or defensive adjustments. No one outside of Wall consistently steps up offensively, and there is no Paul Pierce (or even an Angelo Dundee) on this team to yell at the Wizards to tell them they are blowing it.

The Wizards can have players-only meetings, fancy handshakes, they can sign players at the 11th hour, they can even cite stats that attribute their struggles to games lost due to injury. But ball don’t lie, and right now ball says that the Wizards have 17 games to make the playoffs—and they are far from playing their best on the back nine of the season. The ship has not yet sank, but it is indeed sinking.

Rashad Mobley on FacebookRashad Mobley on InstagramRashad Mobley on Twitter
Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.