Key Legislature: Wizards 117 vs Bulls 96 — Washington Flushes Chicago, Avoids Stepping in 'It' | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 117 vs Bulls 96 — Washington Flushes Chicago, Avoids Stepping in ‘It’

Updated: March 17, 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 vs Bulls, Regular Season Game 67, March 16, 2016, by Kyle Weidie (@truth_about_it).

“No, I think we just kind of looked at film and said our defense in pick-and-rolls is some shit, so we have to fix it … to be honest.”

Very honest. That was John Wall’s answer when asked if he thinks that this Wizards team finally realizes that there’s no room for more slip-ups.

Wall had previously elaborated on that recent, much-discussed pick-and-roll defense during his media scrum after Washington’s 117-96 win over the visiting Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night. Coming off a five-game losing streak, the Wizards have now won two games in a row and sit 1.5 games back of both the Pistons and Bulls for the eighth seed in the East.

“We just simplified what the hell we were supposed to do defensively, to be honest.” Wall is usually pretty straight-forward.

“In the beginning, we would just sit and guard 2-for-2, and everybody else would just stay home on the weak side,” continued Wall, alluding to points on the recent road trip and perhaps earlier in the season when the Wizards had to compensate for allowing opponents to shoot so well from the 3-point line (i.e., staying home on shooters). “Then we look at our defense [now], we’re into the paint, playing help-side defense, closing back out to shooters, making it a lot easier for our big men and for our point guards to guard the guys they have to chase around screens.”

Moments earlier, on the other side of the room, teammate Jared Dudley was asked to contrast the team’s defense earlier in the season, when they were on pace to allow opponents to shoot a historical 40 percent rate from beyond the arc, to now when recent defensive struggles seemed to cause a rift between players and the coaching staff. After the three-game road skid in which the Wizards got chopped up by Denver’s D.J. Augustin, Utah’s Shelvin Mack, and, understandably, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Dudley openly questioned whether the team made enough “adjustments on the fly,” while head coach Randy Wittman simply wondered why his players were not getting into the ball on defense and better containing dribble drives.

“Even though for the most part I know they’ve had some guys that have been in the playoffs, it’s a fairly new team,” Dudley said about the ebb and flow of the season and accompanying adjustments. And that’s a true story, one which might come with varying levels of excusability, or accuracy. Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Nene, Gortat, and Garrett Temple are core mainstays from the past two playoff runs; Ramon Sessions, Markieff Morris, Alan Anderson, Dudley, and four others have been acquired since the February 2015 trade deadline.

Dudley further spoke of integrating two guys, Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden, into the stretch 4 position to start the season. And now having to learn to play with Morris—on the team for barely a month—as the the new starting 4. If any position is key to the new NBA (and how the Wizards have aimed to play since training camp), it’s the 4 position.

Nonetheless, the headline is that the Wizards followed their worst losing streak of the season with two home wins over the very two teams with which they are battling for the very last slot in the postseason.

Against the Bulls, who had just beaten the Toronto Raptors on Monday (1), the Wizards jumped out to a 30-16 lead with just under 10 minutes gone in a 48-minute game. Chicago was without elite passing bigs Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah and started Taj Gibson at the 5, who only saw 7:23 of action before exiting with a tweaked hamstring. With Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler vying for alpha bull, an extra motivated Wall and Beal were able to contain the duo on defense (2) with soft help from Porter and Morris, each also being nimble enough to recover and guard Bulls shooters Mike Dunleavy and Nikola Mirotic, Chicago’s starting 3 and 4. Marcin Gortat tweaked his back in pregame warm-ups and Nene started in his place, immediately providing an upgrade in the big man pick-and-roll defense department (3) Plus, Nene just likes playing the Bulls, so the Wizards thrived from the tip.

Of course, Washington relinquished their big opening lead by the eight-minute mark of the second period. The Bulls assumed a five-point advantage thanks to a 12-0 run that started toward the end of the first quarter with J.J. Hickson manning 5 for Washington, a run that bled into the second period when a stiff-backed Gortat made his return to the court. But the Wizards righted the ship: from the 5:30 mark of the second quarter, they went on a 21-5 run behind Nene at the 5, Porter at the 4, and three additional wings in Wall, Temple, and Thornton. They took a 13-point lead before a late Rose basket kept Washington’s intermission lead at 11, 63-52.

The keys to first half success: Washington tallied 10 assists (by six different players) to zero turnovers in the first quarter, and by halftime they were 8-for-10 from 3-point land, boosted by a 5-for-5 effort from Temple—all eight makes were assisted and Wall picked up the assist for each of Temple’s 3s (4)

The key overall point for the Wizards on this night—aside from another triple-double from their point guard (29 points, 12 assists, and 10 boards from Wall)—was how they once again punched first to start the third quarter (5). Morris, whose passing prowess can at times provide a surprising contrast from his penchant for attempting step-back midrange jumpers, found Wall on a backcut on Washington’s first possession (6). Beal then attacked Dunleavy and converted an and-1—Beal’s aggressiveness in his second game back since spraining his pelvis and missing the road trip was also a prevalent second half theme. Wall followed that by finding Porter (3-4 from deep on the night) for a 3-pointer to put the Wizards up 17 points thanks to an 8-2 run to start the second half.

Timeout, Chicago … and Washington never looked back. The Bulls would get also close as 12 points with 4:10 left in the game, and the Wizards’ lead would then balloon to as much as 24 points with 1:25 left.

Dudley elaborated on Washington’s struggles on the recent road trip versus the latest two wins at home over Detroit and Chicago by a combined 64 points.

“Even since the All-Star break, we’ve relatively played pretty good at home (now 7-1). It’s the road (2-6) where you don’t sleep in your bed, you don’t have the same comfort. Role players usually don’t play as well on the road if you look at the analytics of that.(7) But for us, it’s simplifying the game, protecting the paint, using our length, and living with a contested 3 instead of a wide-open one.”

And the savvy veteran and main mouthpiece of the Wizards would not let the evening go without a tip of the hat to his much-maligned coach. Dudley’s first response in his post-game media scrum after throttling the Bulls.

“Good adjustments. Coach Witt did a really good job defensively. This was a now or never moment for us.”

There are 15 games left—nine on the road where the Wizards have a Net Rating of minus-10.5 since the All-Star Break, and six at home where they are a net plus-14.6 since the break. The schedule appears favorable with only six of 15 games against current playoff teams (Atlanta twice at home and once on the road; and at Golden State, at Los Angeles (Clippers), and versus Charlotte at home), in addition to a road game in Detroit.

Still, if the Wizards don’t take advantage, they’ll find themselves fully back stepping into “some shit.”

  1. With Jimmy Butler but without Derrick Rose and Mike Dunleavy, who returned to the court to face the Wizards on Wednesday night.
  2. 33 points Rose and Butler combined, to 49 points for Wall and Beal.
  3. Nene ate up the floor as a free safety later in the game with Gibson out and Chicago being forced to play rookie and fellow Brazilian Cristiano Felicio at the 5; the Bulls also sometimes played rookie Bobby Portis at 5.
  4. Temple would go 0-for-1 on 3s in the second half, tying his career high with five makes on six attempts.
  5. Marcin Gortat started the third quarter instead of Nene but the Wizards didn’t miss a beat from when they began the game with Nene. Some of that early third quarter success had to do with Chicago starting undersized rookie Bobby Portis at 5 in the second half.
  6. Morris started the game well, but his time was limited due to foul trouble. That, packaged with the Bulls going small because of injuries, led to Wittman use some four-guard lineups, one featuring Wall, Sessions, Beal, and Temple, as well as Porter at the 4. Washington was plus-21 in the 13-plus minutes Otto spent at 4.
  7. #ANALYTICS! A buzzer just went off somewhere or an angel just lost its wings or however that goes.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.