Philly Close Again, Still No Cigar — Wizards vs Sixers, DC Council 59 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Philly Close Again, Still No Cigar — Wizards vs Sixers, DC Council 59

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Updated: March 1, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs 76ers, Game 59, Feb. 29, 2016 from the Verizon Center, via Rashad Mobley (@rashad20).

M.V.P.

Prior to last night’s game, Sixers Coach Brett Brown was asked what his team could do to shut down (read: slow down) John Wall, specifically early in the game. Brown mentioned that the Sixers need to stop Wall in transition, guard him as a team not man-to-man, and that they needed to build a wall around him. Brown sounded so sincere as he laid out the defensive blueprint, but sadly his team of players who are long are on effort and short on talent did nothing to show they understood the plan.

Wall finished with 37 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, a block and just 2 turnovers in 41 minutes of play. He started quickly in the first quarter with 12 points in just 10 minutes, and when Sessions checked in for him with 1:48 left in the opening quarter, the Wizards were in control and led 24-16. It was a performance that differed from the game on Sunday against Cleveland, when Wall set the table for everyone else and ate intermittently. This time around, Wall was aggressively looking for his shot; when it wasn’t there, he found Otto Porter whose hot shooting carried over from the Cleveland game.

Wall, along with the rest of his teammates, pressed pause in both intensity and defense departments, however, which allowed the Sixers to gain not only confidence but also the lead. Thankfully, Coach Wittman granted Wall the opportunity to play all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter to undo that mess of a third quarter. Wall shined, and then some.

For the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, the Sixers were still feeling the residual effects from their strong third quarter, leading by seven points. Then Wall got the Wizards’ run started by hitting a 3-point shot to cut the lead to four. A little over a minute and a couple possessions later, Wall drove to the basket, absorbed contact from Robert Covington, and hit a tough layup which gave the Wizards a two-point lead—a lead they would not relinquish.

Ish Smith, who deserved an Oscar for his role as the Sixers version of John Wall in the second half, hit a tough 3-pointer to pull his team within three points with 1:09 left, which gave John Wall the opportunity to insert not one, but two daggers into the Sixers.

The first dagger came via an assist when Wall drove the lane, then kicked it back to Morris who was wide-open at the foul line. Wall trusted Morris to hit the basket in crunch time and Morris delivered, which may prove to be much more valuable as the Wizards make their playoff run. Wall Dagger No.2 came via a step-back jumper from 17 feet.

Wall did not have a lofty assist total, and quite frankly, his lack of leadership on both ends of the floor in that dreadful third quarter is more than enough reason to be concerned about the Wizards during these last 23 games. But on the second consecutive night of basketball action, when his team truly needed him to will a victory, Wall leaned on his ability to score and got the job done. Even Sixers Coach Brett Brown said that Washington’s lone All-Star was “gifted” and a “Russell Westbrook-type.”

L.V.P.

My colleague Adam Rubin has already rolled out TAI’s first official playoff-related article this season, and given that the Wizards are just 1.5 games out of playoff spots six through eight, that’s not such an unreasonable thought to have … until you re-examine the Wizards’ third-quarter defense against the league’s worst team by far.

The Wizards surrendered 34 third-quarter points to the Sixers. Sixteen of those points were in the paint, eight were in transition (the Wizards had none in the quarter), and 12 came via the 3-point line, including one by center Nerlens Noel (his first attempt and make of the season). The baffling part about the Wizards’ defense is that the Sixers were giving them a taste of their own medicine.

Ish Smith would race down the court in an attempt to score on his own, and he did that to the tune of nine points. And when that inital fast break wasn’t there, he started the early offense to create open 3-point shots or uncontested looks in the paint. The Wizards put up little-to-no resistance and at one point they allowed the Sixers to go on a 24-6 run, capped off by an Isaiah Canaan 3-point shot (Cannon got a little chesty afterwards):

The Wizards would eventually cut the Sixers’ lead from eight points to one, and they were bailed out by yet another superstar performance Wall. But as the level of competition increases, and they begin to battle teams in playoff contention who have all of their starters in uniform, these third-quarter lapses will be problematic. Wittman could be blamed on delivering lame halftime speeches, but from a coaching perspective he did all he could in the quarter. He called two timeouts to break up momentum, he inserted Beal and Dudley in the game to give the Sixers a different look from Temple (who offered nothing) and Morris (who had an excellent game, just not in the third quarter), but it did not work.

The players ultimately played their way out of that third- and early fourth-quarter slump, but the fact that their defensive effort comes and goes like so many #WittmanFaces demonstrates a lack of commitment to the art of winning. In fact, that makes the Wizards sound like a team destined to sit home when the second season begins.

X-Factor(s).

The dynamic duo of Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris. As my colleague Conor Dirks alluded to in his tweet above, Coach Wittman said after the game that he believed before the game that Gortat and Dudley should start—despite telling the media before the game that he did not think about such things. And yet, it appears he did do some thinking about matching Philly’s bigs with two true bigs of his own. Just not enough to change the starting lineup once it was announced that Okafor was out. Despite Okafor’s disqualifying right shin contusion, Morris still got his first D.C. start alongside Marcin Gortat.

Gortat had 20 rebounds to go along with his 18 points and Morris, in his first start, had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Morris did not stretch the floor like Dudley so often does as a stretch 4, but his athleticism allowed him to roll to the basket, rebound and create defensive mismatches.

Gortat used his strength, size and experience advantages over Nerlens Noel, Richaun Holmes and Carl Landry to get easy baskets and eight offensive rebounds. Both Wizards players played the entire fourth quarter and both had a significant role in the Wizards’ comeback victory. Gortat scored 13 of his 18 points in the decisive fourth quarter, while Morris gained the trust of Wall, Wittman and the rest of his teammates by hitting one of the game-sealing shots.

When Gortat first heard Morris was coming to the Wizards, he called his former Phoenix teammate “spicy.”  Last night after the duo played so well together, Gortat called it “super sweet.”

That Game Was … the sixth win in eight games.

The good folks at NBA TV played the Wizards vs. Sixers highlight during the 28th minute of their half-hour show, and after Brent Barry and Dennis Scott praised John Wall’s effort, host Matt Winer said that the Wizards win over the Sixers improved their record to 6-2 since the All-Star Break. That’s right, 6-2.

Any way you cut it, two bad losses to hobbled teams, a blowout victory over the LeBron-less Cavs and two victories over the scrappy but hapless Sixers adds up to six wins in eight games. They are 1.5 games out the playoff race, they appear to have finally found a starting stretchish 4 in Markieff Morris, and Coach Wittman has a 10-player rotation to choose from on any given night—a concept that seemed impossible during the earlier winter months.

The nuts and bolts of the 6-2 record are far from pretty, but the Wizards are about to embark on a stretch where five of their next six games are on the road, and four of their opponents (Cleveland, Indiana, Portland and Utah) are jockeying to maintain or improve their respective playoff positions. The Wizards have very little room for error in the final 23 games of the season. 6-2 in the first quarter of post All-Star Break play is a step in the right direction.

Or as Eddie Jordan said in 2005:

“We have to build up the wins now for when things get thin later. We’ve got to be like squirrels. You’ve got to harvest your nuts right now.”

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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.