A Visit from the Champs Gives Washington a Cold Splash of Reality | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

A Visit from the Champs Gives Washington a Cold Splash of Reality

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Updated: November 16, 2016

Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers experienced a White House visit hangover, or maybe they just never truly feared their matchup with the Wizards. Either way, the Cavaliers did not bring championship-level fluidity to the Verizon Center last Friday night. Coach Ty Lue probably gameplanned for the Wizards knowing that his team would be able to get any and every “quality” 3-point look that they wanted.

The Cavaliers are still in the midst of adjusting their offensive philosophy from the ground-and-pound isolation ball that ultimately got former head coach David Blatt fired to a more advanced offense, which consists of heavy ball movement and a ton of 3-point attempts. They rank second in the NBA in deep shots, behind only the Houston Rockets, taking an amazing 35.4 attempts per game (up from 29.6 attempts last season).

It’s not as if Wizards Coach Scott Brooks wasn’t aware of Cleveland’s prowess from behind the arc, or even his own team’s deficiencies with defending that very arc. Still, his team allowed the Cavaliers to shoot 14-for-33 from deep. Washington was outscored by 33 points from 3 in an 11-point loss.

Brooks spoke about his team’s struggles defending the 3-ball after the game.

“I think we were just average, but they make you average defensively from the 3-point line. There was many times tonight they had five 3-point shooters on the floor. They made just about the same amount of 3s that we attempted, but that’s how they play. They average over 36 a game, they made 13 so we’re one over their average.”

If Brooks believes that they were “just average,” he is presumably wearing rose-colored lenses in the spirit of remaining positive, because the Wizards have been nothing short of terrible when it comes to defending the 3-point line. Washington ranks second to last in opponent 3-point percentage (38.6%)—a glaring issue detailed by TAI’s Kyle Weidie before Saturday’s game in Chicago. The Wizards know that this is a major weakness, and they have made more of a concerted effort to drive teams off the 3-point line. It just isn’t working. They might simply lack the talent.

Yes, the Wizards took the floor against the Cavs game without “max contract” Bradley Beal, and competed in the first half was thanks to a super-human 23-point effort from All-Star John Wall. But those were just ancillary factors to the talent disparity that existed before the two teams entered the arena. Wall was every bit the dominant player he has been throughout his career, and the way he had his midrange jumper going in the first half, it looked like he could have been heading to a career night in front of LeBron James and his posse cohorts from Klutch Sports.

But Wall quite literally could not do it by himself, and the Cavaliers game may be a microcosm of what has been going on with the Wizards early this season. Wall has seemingly had even less support than usual, and because of that he has tried to take on more of an offensive burden. He finds himself with his highest usage rate of his career (33.3); his assist numbers are down, but so are his teammates makes this season. The Wizards as a whole shot 46 percent from the field last year and 35 percent on 3-pointers; this year they are down to 44 percent from the field and 31 percent from 3. Wall is more responsible than ever for the offensive performance of his team, which is why he feels the need to “takeover” games, which hasn’t always worked out.

There was a point in the second quarter of that Cavs game when Wall completely took over by using his dribble to get to his hot spots around the top of the key and the foul line extended area. So far this season, the “long 2” range has been his deadliest shot—he has hit 48 percent of his attempts between 16 feet and the 3-point line. While the Cavaliers seemed content to give that shot to Wall in the first half, they appeared to switch up their defensive coverage in the second half and to force the ball out of Wall’s hands. While he was a willing passer in the third quarter because Cleveland’s coverage dictated he needed to be, Wall was less willing to give up the ball in the fourth quarter. Even in the face of double teams, Wall began to force the issue and that in turn created a lot of turnovers, which ultimately sealed the deal.

Brooks was asked about the turnovers:

“They were really crowding the ball tonight on our drives, and we have to pass out of the crowd. John turned it over a couple of times in the fourth quarter, you know he had a great game going and those things happen, we just have to continue to trust the path and make sure that we pass before the crowd gets there.”

Can you completely blame Wall for trying to make something out of nothing? He knows that the best chance for the team would be for him to pull off another Wizard miracle. It wasn’t to be.

LeBron James embraced the challenge of playing better defense in the second half and highlighted such as he iced his feet down after a grueling 38 minutes:

“We had to get back to our defensive ways. Coach Lue challenged us tonight and we definitely picked it up in the second half. John (Wall) is such a talented player and an All-Star point guard in this league. We just had to tighten it up a little bit more and we were able to do that.”

Schematically the Cavaliers changed how they were playing Wall’s pick-and-rolls, but they also ratcheted up their intensity level, as illustrated by Lue when asked about what turned the game around outside the visiting locker room:

“We finally made them feel us. I thought we let them play too free. John Wall made some shots early, which helped them out. I just think they didn’t feel us early in the game. In the last six minutes of the second quarter we really got physical. We were playing our defense. We were able to get out in transition and get some scoring out of that.”

Speaking of the visiting locker room after the game, the Cavaliers created quite the commotion: it could be heard throughout the hallways of the Verizon Center. It seemed to be a moment of team bonding, as a Kyrie Irving-led contingent of Cavaliers dumped water on LeBron to celebrate him reaching the 27,000 point milestone, and being the youngest in NBA history to do so.

Kyrie spoke on what it meant it meant to celebrate LeBron’s accomplishments:

“That’s NBA history. It’s truly an honor to be a part of a journey like that. You see someone put in so much work every single day. It’s accomplishment after accomplishment and he’s really so humble about it. That’s the best way to be. That’s who he is. So for us to celebrate and be a part of it, you just never want to take it for granted.

“He deserves a douse of water. Youngest player to 27,000 points, that is an unbelievable feat. That also tells you he has been in the league for a while. Like I said, just never take it for granted.”

The Cavaliers demonstrated the talent gap between themselves and the Wizards is wide, and perhaps much wider than suspected to begin this season. The Wizards did display enough to suggest that they should be able to compete in a lot more games than they have so far. No one thought that Washington would compete for a championship this season—maybe the conference finals (a stretch). But with a cold splash of water to begin this campaign, it seems that Washington might be lucky just to merely complete for the 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs. The John Wall era is trending toward this franchise simply being a meandering, mediocre, run-of-the-mill team in the East that never will amount to much. They have a decent core, and it’s not to late to change, but signals and a lack of urgency from team management conveys that they might be just OK with settling.

Notes.

There was more free chicken to be had at the Verizon Center, and I’m pretty sure that has to be a record third consecutive night that the Chik-Fil-A Fowl Shot contest was actualized.

The Cavaliers PR people take their jobs seriously. As I was walking into the locker room, there was a reporter being kicked out for violating the NBA’s new rule prohibiting still photography in the locker room. I’m sure this resulted after an incident two seasons ago in which LeBron was very upset with a journalist who he thought was trying to take pictures of his junk. Nevertheless, the Cavs PR director was adamant about the reporter’s removal to the point where all I could think of was, “No soup for you!”

The Verizon Center is getting a reputation for being one of the coldest (temperature-wise) arenas in the NBA, and LeBron came out in the hoodie zipped up to help his body stay warm for the game.

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
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Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. He is going into his second season writing for Truth About It, and also writes for sports analytics website numberfire.com. You can find him in a district bike lane in the Northwest neighborhood of Bloomingdale.