Key Legislature: Wizards 121 vs Nets 103 — Without Wall, Washington Weathers Storm | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 121 vs Nets 103 — Without Wall, Washington Weathers Storm

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Updated: April 7, 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 Nets, Regular Season Game 78, April 6, 2016, by Rashad Mobley (@rashad20).

The spring months are upon us, which means from now until August or September we will be subject to storms, tornadoes, and possibly even hurricanes. When our local or national meteorologists go live on air to prepare us for these incoming storms, they have two specific terms which basically inform folks whether they should panic immediately or be prepared—just in case they have to panic later. Those two terms are “watch” and “warning.”

When a watch is issued it simply means that the conditions are right for inclement weather but nothing is imminent. A watch graduates to a warning when the conditions have worsened, danger is imminent, and it is wise to began preparations for the end.

Prior to Wednesday night’s victory over the Brooklyn Nets, the Wizards were in prime “watch” territory. With five games to play, they trailed the Detroit Pistons by 3.5 games for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, which meant they could ill-afford a letdown against any team. John Wall, who did not participate in morning shoot-around or pregame warmups, was in street clothes at tip time because of a sore knee. In fact, Coach Randy Wittman said after the game that Wall’s knee had swelling and it was best to hold him out. The game represented the first time all season (77 games) that Wall did not play, which meant Ramon Sessions would be starting for the first time since Game 4 of last season’s playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Verizon Center wasn’t exactly primed to assist the Wizards in getting hyped, because at the start of the game, they were virtually silent. It was also virtually empty.

There were golf claps when the Wizards ran out of the locker room, golf claps during introductions, and a smattering of emphatic cheers shortly before the referee threw up the opening tip. The lack of attendance could have been attributed to the slim-to-none chances of postseason play for the Wizards, but it was most likely due to lowly Brooklyn Nets. Going into the game, the Nets had the fourth-worst record in the NBA at 21-56, and just a few days prior to their game against the Wizards, Nets GM Sean Marks announced that Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young (the team’s best players) would sit out the remainder of the season.

No Wall, no crowd, and no real threat of an opponent. Upset watch was in full effect.

Nearly three minutes into the game, it was clear: the Wizards, up 9-0, were not at all fazed by the factors stacked against them. Sessions did not score, but he assisted on two baskets, while Bradley Beal—as my colleague Conor Dirks indicated in the DC Council—handled the ball more and found his spots naturally in Wall’s absence for five quick points. However, Nets interim coach Tony Brown called timeout to settle down his team, make a few adjustments, and Brooklyn came right back.

The Nets went on a 21-11 run over the next five minutes to take a one-point lead at 21-20, thanks to the pesky Shane Larkin, who was able to maneuver his way into the lane, and Thomas Robinson, who is finally getting the playing time which has eluded him all season. The Nets relied more heavily on the pick-and-roll during this stretch and the Wizards, predictably, struggled to defend it properly. It did not help that the Markieff Morris, Otto Porter, and Sessions each committed turnovers that led to Nets points.

The Wizards went on a first quarter-ending 10-2 run to stretch their lead to seven points, but the Nets were slowly gaining confidence—just as the young and upcoming Minnesota Timberwolves had done two weeks ago.

That same back-and-forth dynamic continued in the second quarter. Sessions was scoreless but did his best John Wall impression by pushing the pace, finding his teammates on the perimeter, or cutting to the basket. Then the Wizards would commit careless turnovers, or be one or two steps slow on their defensive rotation, versus the Nets—led by not just by Robinson but also former Georgetown Hoyas forward Henry Sims (who had just been signed for the season after two 10-day contracts) and Sean Kilpatrick (who has been averaging a respective 15.7 points this month). These aren’t exactly the players who should have been preventing the Wizards from winning another “must-win” game, but that’s exactly what seemed to be happening.

The Wizards led just 54-52 at halftime. Washington shot 57 percent in the first half but allowed the Nets to shoot 46 percent. Perhaps more troubling than field goal percentage was that the Wizards committed nine first-half turnovers while the Nets had just three to go along with 12 second-chance points.

This was no longer a storm watch, this was a warning.

The Wizards got a bit of separation in the third quarter, as Porter and Sessions got a bit more assertive. Porter scored via a drive, his outside shot, and the free throw line—and even found time to block Shane Larkin’s shot. Sessions did the majority of his offensive damage during the second half of the third quarter when he scored 11 points to help stretch the Wizards’ lead from seven to 13 points. Just as Wall plays with more confidence when his shot and his passes are equally accurate, Sessions locked in as he easily drove by Larkin and Donald Sloan to put pressure on the Nets offense.

Even better: The Wizards played turnover-free basketball in the third quarter, they limited the Nets to just four second-chance points, and they did not allow Robinson or any of his teammates to find their rhythm. The Wizards led 88-75 after three quarters, the Nets’ confidence was waning, the warning had subsided to a watch, and even that label looked like overkill.

Just 2:15 into the fourth quarter, there was no watch, no storm, just sunny Wizards-colored skies. First, Jared Dudley hit an 18-footer from the top of the key, then Garrett Temple hit a 3-pointer, then Bradley Beal stole the ball and drove in for a layup. The Wizards’ 7-0 run pushed their lead to 20 points. The game was effectively over.

Beal, who probably stayed in the game two to three minutes too long, made sure the Nets did not even think of making a comeback with timely shooting (9 points) and passing (3 assists), and Nene scored and rebounded at will. Oh, and Drew Gooden tried and failed to be great:

After the game, Coach Wittman, who has been damn near Pavolvian this year when it comes to attributing losses or spotty play to defensive lapses, did not disappoint (although this time he was spot on):

“It’s kind of what this team is made up of when we want to play defense. First half, we just ran up and down the floor. We gave up, I think, eight layups in the half court. Not breakaway layups, eight layups against our half-court defense. Standing around, we came up in the third quarter, and I thought right away, first three minutes, turn the game around.”

The Wizards won 121-103 and stymied an early attempt by the Nets to pull off the season-ending upset. The Chicago Bulls (9th place in the East) were idle, but the Pistons and Indiana Pacers both won, which meant the Wizards, despite raining points on their opponents, were stuck in the standings with four games left. The good news is that the Wizards play the Pistons on Friday, and they have 3-0 advantage over them this season. A victory would prolong the Wizards’ season and perhaps place a seed of doubt in the collective heads of the Pistons, considering they end their season with Miami and Cleveland.

The bad news is that there is now uncertainty surrounding John Wall’s knee. Comcast SportsNet’s J. Michael reported that Wall will undergo tests on that swollen right knee and the Washington Post‘s Jorge Castillo said Wall is questionable for Friday night’s game—and perhaps going forward. And while Sessions played a more-than-admirable game against the lowly Nets (18 points, 13 assists and one turnover in just 29 minutes), it isn’t realistic to expect him to lead the Wizards to the playoffs and beyond. The Wizards need their All-Star point guard, just like they need an aggressive Beal.

But on this night, Washington weathered the Wall-less storm, and lived to see at least one more game.

 

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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.