Man Down, Fans Up — Wizards Extend Home Winning Streak to 7 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Man Down, Fans Up — Wizards Extend Home Winning Streak to 7

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Updated: December 29, 2016

When Bradley Beal did not join the rest of his teammates for the second half of Wednesday’s game against the Pacers, the built-in excuse for an impending loss seemed to be forthcoming. The Wizards are in the process of trying to establish themselves as an above average NBA team, and the anchor must be the consistency of the starting five. Washington’s starting unit of John Wall, Brad Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat play together more often than any other five-man unit in the Association, sans the Minnesota Timberwolves starting lineup. The 19.4 minutes per game that the Wizards starting unit plays has an overall plus/minus of plus-3.6 and when they are on the floor, you can actually see the resemblance of a playoff-caliber NBA team. When a key cog such as Beal is not playing (due to a sprained ankle on this night), the Wizards’ magic carriage turns into a pumpkin, leaving them relying on one of the worst bench units in the league to bail them out.

The true sign that the 2016-17 Wizards might be turning a corner is their ability to finish a game that they probably should not win, given the circumstance. This time, John Wall would not allow his team to succumb to the excuses. Wall went above and beyond to take over the game in the third quarter, when the Wizards were suddenly without Beal and vulnerable, and he out-dueled fellow All-Star Paul George to extend Washington’s home winning streak to seven games.

Playing at home definitely helped. The Phone Booth, with an announced crowd of 16,172, was actively participating and creating momentum with waves of positive energy. Scott Brooks recognized the fact that the Wizards playing hard was the reason for the increased crowd involvement:

“We feel comfortable playing here. The other night [and] good crowds. But they’re excited, we’re playing hard. We’re leaving everything on the floor, and this is a classic example of how we have to continue to play.”

Even Pacers media members had to give credit where credit was due:

The Wizards combatted playing without one of their best players by simply playing harder than the Pacers, and the biggest illustration of that effort showed up in the rebounding department. Washington did not rely solely on Marcin Gortat; everyone pitched in — Gortat grabbed 16 boards, Wall 11, Markieff Morris 7 (1.2 above his season average), and Jason Smith 7. The Wizards out-rebounded the Pacers 54-34, and Indiana head coach Nate McMillan was not happy about it:

“I thought there were some times were we got pushed around and you got to man up down here and we need our guards, everybody to come down and get involved. That’s something that we’ve talked about all season long, we knew that was going to be a challenge. Tonight I thought they came in and just took a couple of offensive rebounds.”

The Pacers aren’t as big of a team as they have been in year’s past, that includes the backcourt that used to consist of Lance Stephenson and George Hill, two bigger guards who relished crashing the glass. On this night, it was John Wall who wanted the ball more when it was up in the air. In addition to his season-high 11 rebounds, Wall was just one assist away from recording his first triple-double of 2016-17 campaign.

For Wall to fail to reach the triple double because of assists is kind of surprising, given the fact that Optimus Dime is one of the more endearing nicknames for an assist maker in this league. Beal’s absence did not allow for Wall to sit back and create for others as he normally does, but it did call for him to takeover the game by finishing plays and making sure that the Wizards did not blow a double-digit halftime lead.

Wall scored 12 of his game-high 36 points in the third quarter, and the Pacers defenders sagged into the lane because of a lack of respect for Washington’s shooting ability without Beal. Not being frustrated with a clogged up painted area, Wall used increased confidence in his shooting stroke to make the Pacers pay. He is shooting a career-high 42 percent on long-two jumpers (36% career), and when I asked him about the confidence he has in his midrange game, he credited not being able to run this summer, forcing him to work on his shot and form.

Wall wasn’t the only Wizard who stepped up in Beal’s absence. Otto Porter scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half, and that largely contributed to the Wizards ability to hold on for a much needed victory. Porter did not score his first basket until 20 minutes into the game because he spent a good portion of the first quarter in foul trouble after picking up two quick ones chasing Paul George. Porter is quietly turning himself into one of the more efficient scorers in the NBA. Anytime you can score 22 points on 10 shots, you are obviously doing something right. When I asked coach Brooks if there was a concerted effort to get Otto more involved with Brad out, Brooks complemented Otto’s shot selection:

“Well, Otto does a real good job of putting himself in the position to take good shots. He’s shooting over 50 percent because he takes good shots. I thought his 3 on the pass from Kelly was the shot that probably gave us the best chance to win this game tonight”

Porter does a great job of playing within the offense and not forcing the issue to get more looks for himself. He has always understood that if he constantly moves without the basketball, he will get great shots by cutting and crashing the glass. Otto did not have his typical great rebounding game against the Pacers (just 1 board), because he often had to keep up with George beyond the 3-point arc (10 of PG13’s 20 FGA attempts where 3s), plus the aforementioned foul trouble he had in the the first quarter.

Picking up the slack for Otto’s off rebounding night was the Wizards’ best free-agent acquisition of the summer, Jason Smith. Smith finished with seven points, seven rebounds, and a game-high plus/minus of plus-15. The pick-and-pop aspect of Smith’s game has been a pleasant surprise recently (he actually hit a corner 3 — over Kevin Seraphin!), and he is now showing exactly what the Wizards expected to receive when they signed him as a third big option. When Washington took the game over with a 19-8 run in the final 3:47 of the second quarter — after Paul George picked up his third foul — Smith was able to fill in the gap at the power forward position due to foul trouble from both Porter and Morris. With Kelly Oubre failing to find his groove since he suffered a concussion nearly two weeks ago against the Pistons, Smith has been a more dependable part of the rotation. Out of necessity, Brooks turned to a lineup of Wall, Beal, Oubre, Smith, and Gortat — maybe something the coach can go back to when he feels the need to create an advantage on the glass against smaller teams while still being able to spread the floor on offense. Smith played well enough to get down with a little radio party and get interviewed by Glen Consor after the game.

As of right now, the Wizards are still not holding down a playoff spot, but luckily it’s not a 31-game season. There is still plenty of time for this team to continue to improve and for the fans to grow with a developing team. Beal’s status will most certainly be up in the air for Friday’s contest against the lowly Nets, but as the Wizards proved tonight, one man will no longer stop the show.

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.