Incremental Improvements — Wizards vs Sixers, Preseason Game 4 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Incremental Improvements — Wizards vs Sixers, Preseason Game 4

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Updated: October 14, 2016

TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs. Sixers, Preseason Game 4, October 13, 2016, from the Verizon Center, via Rashad Mobley (@rashad20).

In case you missed it on Thursday night—and judging by the sparse Verizon Center crowd and the fact that the Nationals were fighting for their playoff lives, you probably did—the Wizards won their second preseason contest. They defeated the Sixers, 100-79, and their lead hovered around 30 points for much of the second half. John Wall had nine points, nine assists, and three steals in 19 minutes, and Bradley Beal scored 15 of his 22 points in the third quarter.

A win is a win and that is a good thing (even if the win doesn’t count for anything). In reality the preseason is about staying healthy, implementing offensive and defensive schemes, making roster decisions, and improving (incrementally) in preparation for the start of the real season.

About that…

The Wizards’ second and third units have done yeoman’s work on defense and there have been a few strong individual performances, including Otto Porter against Carmelo and Tomas Satoransky’s on-the-ball perimeter defense. But in the first quarters of the first three preseason games, the Wiz starters have been softer than a Casper mattress. In the opening game against the Miami Heat, the starting five of Trey Burke, Beal, Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat allowed the Heat to score 23 points in the first eight minutes. Two nights later in Philadelphia, the Wizards allowed the Sixers to score 30 points on 52 percent shooting. And earlier this week against the New York Knicks, the Wizards “held” the Knicks to just 27 first quarter points, but New York hit five of their nine 3-point shots—all uncontested.

Before Thursday night’s game, Scott Brooks stressed that he was looking for his starters to “get stops and score more in transition” to keep his team from trailing early.

Trey Burke had his share of struggles in two of the first three preseason games he played (he sat out the game against the Knicks with a sprained left foot). The first game he was outplayed by Satoransky and called out by Coach Brooks for his lack of pace in the first half. In game two against Sixers, he did hit a 41-foot half-court shot, but he could not get the Wizards starters into any flow offensively and could not stay in front of Sixers point guards, T.J. McConnell or Sergio Rodriguez. With Satoransky playing like a 10-year veteran and Sheldon McClellan showing that he’s hungry to make this Wizards roster, Trey Burke needed a stronger performance on Thursday to win back the confidence of Coach Brooks.

From the opening tip of last night’s game against the Sixers, it was clear that the Wizards starters had gotten the message. Sixteen seconds into the game, Wall stole the ball from McConnell. A minute after that, Andrew Nicholson (starting for Morris) got a steal of his own.  Neither score led to transition points, but they disrupted the flow of the Sixers offense. A few minutes later, McConnell beat Wall on a drive, but Wall recovered and did this:

https://twitter.com/WashWizards/status/786708814359826432

Later in the quarter, Porter got in on the steal-the-ball from McConnell parade which, in this case, produced points:

By the end of the first quarter, the Sixers had scored just 16 points (22% shooting) and committed five turnovers. The Wizards parlayed that ineptitude into eight fastbreak points and 45 percent shooting overall. Wall set the tone and his teammates fed off his energy and thwarted the Philadelphia offense—the same offense that scored 30 first quarter points on the Wizards one week earlier.

After the game, Coach Brooks was effusive with is praise: “I thought the defense was where it needed to be. It started with our guards. They were into the basketball and they did not allow anything easy. I thought that was the key to the good start.”

Sixers Coach Brett Brown agreed that his team had been ambushed. “I thought we got jumped with a team that’s here at home,” he said. “I thought they really came in and did a good job of making some shots.”

Burke rebounded, too. He played better, smarter, and with more confidence. Brooks chose Burke and not Satoransky to spell Wall in the first quarter, and he made it his business to get to the basket, which led to four trips to the free throw line. The same scenario played out in the third quarter when Wall went to the bench after four minutes (and a 21-point lead). Burke came in, immediately hit a shot, and then had the good sense to give the ball to the red-hot Beal, who scored 15 points in seven third-quarter minutes.

Burke still has shortcomings as a point guard, particularly when it comes to seeing the entire floor. Part of what makes Wall so unstoppable is not just his ability to get into the lane, but every player—whether it be Beal on the perimeter, Gortat rolling to the basket, or Porter in the corner—is a threat to get the ball. As Burke got into a deeper groove offensively, his tunnel vision left perimeter players standing around. At the end of the first quarter, Burke drove down the center of the lane, was met by Joel Embiid and Sergio Rodriguez, and tried to force a shot. Once he got in the air and realized a shot wasn’t possible, he was forced to throw a bad pass, which Embiid stole. Kelly Oubre was wide open for 3, but Burke didn’t see him. He did the same thing to Oubre and Marcus Thornton in the third quarter. It didn’t affect the outcome of the game, because by then the Wizards led by two dozen points, but it is concerning if the prospective backup point guard can’t find his teammates. At one point, even Gortat had to pull him aside and talk to him about moving the ball.

Here’s what Burke had to say after the game:

“Coach told me to be aggressive and play my game and I think that’s what this team needs when I come out with that second unit. … I tried to get in that paint more to see what I had. I think I was way more comfortable this game and I’m excited about the next one in Kentucky.”

Notes:

  • Otto Porter bruised his ribs late in the second quarter and is listed as day-to-day.
  • Before the game Coach Brooks made a point of saying everyone was healthy and ready to play—including Markieff Morris. By the end of shootaround, Morris was dressed but listed as a no-go. After the game Coach Brooks said, “‘Kieff has been playing with a sore foot, and going into this game we anticipated him to play, and he came tonight and it was sore, so we wanted to be real safe with him and decided to sit him out.”
  • Andrew Nicholson started in Morris’s place and had 11 points (3-for-5 from 3-point range), and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes. Coach Brooks was impressed and mildly amused at Nicholson’s 3-point prowess: “He’s intriguing. He has a unique game. First of all he’s a great teammate and the guys really enjoy watching him play and how he plays … he’s a man of a thousand moves. I think he shot nine times and five were 3s—that might a little much but he was filling in and he was wide open so he’s gotta take those shots.”
  • After the game ended, the entire Wizards team (minus Bradley Beal, who left early), and media had their eyes glued to the locker room television screens, watching Max Scherzer and the Nationals.
  • Joel Embiid (11 points, 12 rebounds, 13 minutes) did his best to lockdown John Wall:

The last word?

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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.