Bad Habits Prevent Wizards From Celebrating Growth in OKC | Wizards Blog Truth About

Bad Habits Prevent Wizards From Celebrating Growth in OKC

Updated: December 2, 2016

Russell Westbrook Moutian Dew Kickstart

It’s a rare situation to seemingly “blow” a lead in the final minutes of a game after trailing by double digits in the second half. The rarity of the situation has no bearing on the surprise factor (or lack thereof) that the Wizards could not finish a game with a seven-point lead with under five minutes left. But here we are, in a world where #SoWizards is synonymous with Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

After taking a 13-10 lead at the 5:53 mark in the first quarter, the Wizards somehow found themselves down 32-19 by the end of the period thanks to five turnovers. And while Washington did a much better job of protecting the ball going forward (6 turnovers the rest of the game), the first quarter lull put them in a position where they were playing catch up. It only took one more lull stretch after the team was able to take control of the game to lose control over a game that should have been theirs for the taking.

Not Clutch.

The Wizards contained Russell Westbrook for the majority of the game, but like a shark smelling blood in the water, Westbrook took full advantage of a team that has not yet figured out how to close games. Westbrook was a one-man wrecking crew in the closing minutes of regulation and overtime. From that 97-90 Washington lead until the end of overtime, Westbrook outscored the Wizards himself, 21-18, and also had 15 points of help from his teammates.

It’s not as if John Wall and Bradley Beal weren’t trying in crunch time, but they were less exacting and less determined than Westbrook. Wall struggled from the field all night, finishing 6-for-20 from the field, yet he took the majority of clutch time shots. There’s no doubt Wall is still the best player on this team, and he has consistently proven to be the most reliable Wizard with the ball in his hands. And maybe Beal will grow into a suitable option to run late-game offense on a more consistent basis, but as illustrated by his costly, unforced turnover at the two minute mark of the fourth quarter, he’s still not totally there. Turnovers happen at the end of games, but the aforementioned Beal play was egregious. First he tried to create on a dribble drive, then he fell down losing the ball in the process and gifting the opposing team free points (in this case, three of them). That play was more critical than the five-point swing it caused, as it seemed to deem Beal untrustworthy for future possessions in the game where he could have made an impact.

Winning Lineups.

The Wizards were actually able to get back into the game thanks to a boost from Kelly Oubre and the bench unit. Oubre finished with a game-high plus-minus of plus-5, and he did it by doing more with less. What Kelly is figuring out in his second season is that he does not have to be relied on as a driver or slasher; his job is very simple: finish and rebound. Oubre, more so than in the past, was in the right position on the court; with the ball, he was assertive and patient. Not to mention the type of effort that Oubre brings on defense, a versatility that unlocks different lineups that Scott Brooks can use.

Brooks definitely deserves some credit. So far this season he’s been adept at understanding opponents and adjusting his lineup accordingly. In Oklahoma, he played small with the Oubre/Porter 3-4 combo and forced the Thunder to adjust. The Wizards also attacked Domantas Sabonis and Jerami Grant with a nice dosage of Kieff Morris post-ups, and with Porter at the 4, the Wizards made the young OKC bigs work by chasing him around pin-down screens.

Brooks had to improvise on the spot since he was once again without Ian Mahinmi, who missed his second consecutive game after making his season debut against the Spurs last Saturday. The result of Brooks’ improv skills was Washington’s very own version of the “Death Lineup”—Wall, Beal, Oubre, Porter, and Morris; they finished minus-12, a disastrous minus-8 in the overtime alone. (Now exactly how much that was skewed by the prowess of Westbrook, we’ll never really know.) When it was Marcin Gortat instead of Morris, that lineup was plus-18 during a similar in-game small sample size. Gortat is by far the best rebounder on this team and he can finish so beautifully on those pick-and-roll rim runs with Wall that it more than makes up for whatever deficiencies he gives up by not being as fleet of foot.

Brooks presumably will continue to put optimal lineups on the floor while still tinkering with his rotation, and the more information he gathers, the better off his decision making will be. One takeaway from the Thunder game is that Oubre is quietly increasing his dependability, and which gives Brooks the opportunity to develop him throughout the season. Oubre’s presence will be key because his strong play allows Brooks more opportunities to play Otto Porter at the “4” and flip some of the matchups against teams who are weak at the power forward position. Another key cog in this whole process is Tomas Satoransky, who initially subbed in for Porter instead of Beal. Satoransky is versatile with his 6-foot-7 frame which allows him play all three wing positions. Once he figures out how to consistently defend, finish plays (and more importantly, hit 3s), this team will become even more dangerous with its lineup versatility.

The Wizards lost but likely still learned about themselves against the Thunder. They displayed some fight in coming back from a double digit deficit, but also displayed some of the same bad-habits that nearly cost them the game against the Kings. An almost habitual lack of focus allowed Westbrook to catch fire and show why he is one of the most dominant players in the NBA. There are no such thing as moral victories in professional sports, but in a heartbreaking loss, the Wizards may have gotten a little better.


Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.