Season's End by Best Friend — Wizards at Kings, DC Council 75 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Season’s End by Best Friend — Wizards at Kings, DC Council 75

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Updated: March 31, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards at Kings, Game 75, March 31, 2016, from Sacramento, California, via Sean Fagan (@McCarrick).

[via @James_Ham]

M.V.P.

DeMarcus Cousins and the King’s Offense

You always hurt the one you love the most.

How fitting that the playoff aspirations of the Washington Wizards were dealt if not a death blow, then at least a savage wound by John Wall’s Kentucky running-mate, DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins filleted the Wizards (in particular Marcin Gortat but often Nene) on the interior throughout the evening, opening the proceedings by scoring 11 points in the first quarter (including one 3-pointer), rampaging through the Wizards’ porous defense, and leaving the Kings trailing by only two points when the period came to a close at the score of 34-32 (John Wall hit a 3 at the buzzer to give Washington the lead).

Cousin’s line on the night (29 points, 11-18 FGs, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks) was eye-popping, but he was simply the fulcrum on which the Kings offense slowly dismantled a dispirited Washington squad that has lost three of its last four contests. The Wizards were bested both from beyond the arc and inside the paint. From the land of the 3-point shot, the Kings shot 44 percent and seemed intent on exploiting a season-long Washington weakness. The Kings, as a team, average only 8.0 3-point attempts per game, which places them at 18th in the league (tied with Indiana and Denver). Though this output has seen an uptick with Sacramento’s recent win streak (they are averaging closer to 15 attempts per game over the the last five games), the Kings are merely serving revenge cold—as the Association continually drops the most bombs on their heads at a rate of 28.0 attempts per game.

That Sacramento took advantage of the Wizards’ perimeter defense is no surprise (the Wizards rank 28th in league 3-point defense), but their reinterpretation of the modern day matador inside the paint was truly remarkable. The inability to stop Cousins is not surprising, as he regularly feasts on below average defenses, but it’s not as if the Wizards were able to stop any of the lesser Kings when they had the ball in their hands. Kosta Koufos went 5-for-5 from the field, casually draining 10-footers over the heads of hapless Wizards. Quincy Acy, whose entire game consists of rebounding and screaming loudly, went 3-for-3, with one of those attempts being an unbelievable 3-pointer in the first quarter. All told, the Kings shot an ungodly 56 percent from the floor, which seems preposterous considering the supposed importance of the game to the Wizards.

Afterward, Wizards players (notably Bradley Beal) once again called out the lack of effort and expressed frustration at being unable to beat a team “below them” in the pecking order of the NBA. Perhaps the surprise should come from the Wizards not being ready for a game in which the Kings had publicly proclaimed themselves as spoilers. Since beating the Mavericks (in a Rajon Rondo “revenge” game), the Kings have been very open to the fact that they want everyone “taking the plane home” after the last game of the season. The good news for the Wizards is that—after a loss that leaves the team 3.5 games behind the Pacers for the last playoff spot in the East—Wall may be able to make his vacation plans with Cousins early.

L.V.P.

The Lack of Statistical Anomalies

In a must-win game, there are many factors that could be isolated and pulled out as the “reason” the Wizards lost. The finger could be pointed to the lack of bench production, the lack of “effort,” or the failure to convert at key moments of the contest. However, the issue can probably be boiled down to one simple fact that has remained static throughout the 2015-16 season: the Wizards are a terrible defensive team. A quick scan through a list of key defensive performance indicators puts the Wizards near the bottom or lower half of each statistical category. And though the team has slowly crept up from “historically bad” in such categories such as 3-point percentage allowed, it hasn’t been enough to compensate for an offense that remains highly overrated. For the entire season, the promise was that once the Wizards got healthy, everything would change and suddenly the team would play at a different level. The problem is that none of the players the Wizards reintroduced to their lineup could be considered a defensive upgrade. From Bradley Beal to Alan Anderson to Markieff Morris—each player has the ability to be a decent defender but the onus has always been placed on their offensive output.

Wrapped within an ill-fitting metaphor, the Wizards have approached almost every game this season as the last round of a “Rocky” movie. Both teams come out swinging and whoever lands the biggest blow ends up winning the game. The problem with this approach is that the Wizards neither have the punching power to go toe-to-toe with the biggest opponents (Golden State, San Antonio) or any solution for a team like Boston that actually puts its hands up to defend. The Wizards can express frustration over the “lack of effort” all they want, but in this case the “statistics don’t lie.” To expect the team to become even competent defensively in face of all metrics is an exercise in futility.

X-Factor.

What to play for next?

The Wizards have lost every conceivable manner of “must-win” games throughout the season with the stated goal always being to reach the playoffs. Now with that goal all but impossible, it will be interesting to see how the Wizards’ staff and players react to the reality that there will be no first-round games in Cleveland this spring.

They could always play for Randy Wittman’s job, but at no point in the season has Team President Ernie Grunfeld or Team Owner Ted Leonsis stated that Wittman’s tenure is danger. The players could also continue to fold up their tents and play at their current level as a form of protest—in an attempt to force management’s hand into making a change.

They could play for pride, something that John Wall has talked about at length throughout the season, but the call to play for pride seems to fall on deaf ears, or clatter to the floor off another ill-advised jump pass.

They could punt the season for a better lottery— oh, wait….

That game was … nothing earth-shattering

Thousands of pixels later and we remain at the place where we started—dreaming of what could have been if only things had broken the Wizards’ way. The sad fact is that the Wizards are where they are because of a staunch inability to change—both as a basketball team and an organization. The organizational philosophy of “staying the course” has brought with it two appearances in the second round of the playoffs, but also lost draft picks, a stagnant coaching staff, and a directionless future. If there were ever a time to shake things up and try something new, this would be the moment, but the Wizards, alas, seem fundamentally incapable of seizing even the smallest of those.

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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.