Bullets Step Off Ledge With Win Over Nuggets | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Bullets Step Off Ledge With Win Over Nuggets

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Updated: December 9, 2016

Washington Bullets game first-hand game coverage from TAI — Now: Nuggets at Bullets, Game 21, December 8, 2016, via Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace). [Ed. Note: This was a throwback game with Washington officially referred to as the Bullets.] 

After Tuesday’s humiliating loss to Orlando, #WizardsTwitter was on a 48-hour suicide watch. Although Washington managed to put its funeral on hold with an ugly 92-85 win over the struggling Denver Nuggets, all is not well at the Verizon Center. Here are three reasons to be concerned in the wake of Washington’s eighth win of the season.

#1. Another Slow Start

After losing to Orlando in “unacceptable” fashion in their last game, Coach Scott Brooks talked about playing with pride and executing basic fundamentals, like boxing out. John Wall talked about playing hard, and wondered aloud why his teammates cannot seem to do so on a consistent basis.

After Thursday’s shoot-around, Bradley Beal intimated that the team’s defensive lapses were behind them: “I think we figured it out now.” That seemed like a pretty bold pronouncement considering that the team did not practice on Wednesday and only had a one hour shoot-around prior to the Denver game to fix what ailed them. The team’s defensive shortcomings through the first 20 games seemed like they required a little more time and attention.

To veteran Bullets-watchers, Beal’s words were not surprising. Washington players have a long history of saying the right thing but a much shorter track record of actually correcting their play.

History repeated itself right from the opening tip against Denver. Washington had seven turnovers in the first seven minutes and quickly fell behind by 14. The Bullets did not look like a team that had figured anything out.

Washington’s inability to lock in defensively after its embarrassing loss to the Magic is disconcerting. Sure, they beat the Nuggets, but the final outcome had more to do with Denver’s inability to hit a shot in the fourth quarter than anything Washington did. Denver had 27 turnovers and missed its last 14 3-point attempts for god’s sake.

Washington will take the W, but they didn’t earn it. Call it an immoral victory.

#2. Markieff Morris’ Forgettable Fourth Quarter

When the fourth quarter began, Washington only had four players on the court. Someone told Markieff Morris he was supposed to be in, so he slowly stood up and walked on to the floor with the urgency of someone who just woke up from a nap. Morris’ malaise was understandable. He played the entire second and third quarters and rightfully expected a short rest.

He only lasted two minutes in the fourth quarter and they were some of the ugliest minutes you will ever see. Within 18 seconds after sauntering onto the court, Morris missed a contested jumper. On the ensuing defensive possession, he and Trey Burke miscommunicated on a switch, leading to a wide open Jamal Murray 3-pointer.

The next two defensive possessions were not Markieff’s finest hour. The video speaks for itself.

Possession 1:

Possession 2:

Just like that, Kelly Oubre was summoned from the bench and he stayed in for game’s remaining 10 minutes. I asked Brooks after the game about his decision to swap Kelly for Markieff and he rightly pointed out Morris had played 14 straight minutes and Denver was playing small at the time, forcing Morris to cover Wilson Chandler.

While those facts are correct, it is also true that these types of defensive lapses have plagued Markieff all season. Much has been said about John Wall and Bradley Beal’s inability to keep guards out of the paint, but that issue becomes doubly bad if your bigs are slow to rotate. With Ian Mahinmi a constant presence on the inactives list, the Bullets do not have a rim protector. The only way they can improve their defense is if all five players are in sync.

Against Denver’s small-ball lineup, Brooks was able to swap Oubre for Morris, but that will not always be an option. When opponents go big, Markieff is the only player on the roster who can match up against agile power forwards, because Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith do not have the necessary lateral quickness. So, when Brooks talks about establishing a defensive mindset, Markieff Morris is a huge part of that equation.

#3. Unsustainable Reliance on Starters

The Denver Nuggets (8-15) are not very good, and they arrived in D.C. on the second night of a back-to-back after losing in Brooklyn. Washington was playing its third of four games in six nights after Wall and Beal played 78 and 73 minutes, respectively, in back-to-back games. On paper, the Nuggets game looked like an opportunity to grab a win and steal some rest for the Bullets backcourt duo.

That didn’t happen.

Thanks to the slow start, Brooks was forced to ride his starters all night (each played at least 33 minutes) and essentially played a six man rotation with Kelly Oubre (25 minutes) the only other player who logged over 11.5 minutes.

The fact that Brooks felt the need to lean so heavily on the starters versus a team that played so poorly is not a good sign.

Still, a win is a win and there are always positives…

Otto-Oubre Connection

After Markieff Morris went to the bench with 10:03 left in the fourth quarter, Washington played the rest of the game with Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre at the forward spots. That combo that has worked well on several occasions this season.

Brooks spoke after the game about the versatility: “[Oubre] has the athleticism and length and he can guard multiple players and when we do have that lineup with Otto, Bradley and John we can switch 1 through 4 and it takes the team out of the offense.”

The versatility is helpful on defense but it also gives Washington four players on the court who can push the ball on offense and keep up with Wall on the break. With Washington’s limited (and slow-footed) front court depth, Brooks needs to find creative ways to put five-man units on the floor that can take advantage of Wall’s speed. The Otto-Oubre forward tandem is shaping up to be a promising option.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.