Opening Statements 24: Wizards vs Hornets — Running in Place | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements 24: Wizards vs Hornets — Running in Place

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Updated: December 14, 2016

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Prior to the Wizards’ 112-101 loss to the Miami Heat on Monday night, the ‘Wizards are on the road to recovery’ narrative was shaping up quite nicely. After a bad home loss to the Orlando Magic—in which John Wall scored a career-high 52 points—the only player who spoke on record was Wall, and he made it his business to call out his colleagues for their lack of intensity and aggressiveness. And he challenged them to revisit their pre-NBA, pre-college attitudes toward the game of basketball.

The Wizards won their next two games against the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks, and in both victories shed the narrative that the starters had to carry the substandard bench. Against the Nuggets, Scott Brooks benched Markieff Morris for the last 10 minutes of the fourth quarter and instead played Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter together, which helped the Wizards turn a four-point deficit into a seven-point win.

Just two nights later against the Bucks, Oubre continued to be a nuisance on offense as he had against Denver, with three steals and eight defensive rebounds. He also peppered in a more prolific offense game to the tune of 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting.  Not only had Brooks seemingly found a lineup (Wall-Beal-Oubre-Porter-Gortat) that worked for him on both ends of the floor, but Oubre seemed to emerge as the anchor of that previously struggling bench. Even David Aldridge of NBA.com, seemed to think that the Wizards had finally turned the corner after 22 games of mediocrity and inconsistency:

“But the Wizards are showing small signs of life, as their beleaguered bench finally is starting to carry its own weight and 2015 first-round pick Kelly Oubre, Jr., has showed signs of becoming a contributor. In the congealed East, the Wizards’ 9-13 record has them just a game out in the loss column from the eighth playoff spot.”

But with Monday night’s 11-point loss to the Heat in Miami, the Wizards managed to undo all of the goodwill they had built during the brief, two-game win streak. Wall and Beal were mostly in-sync offensively with 30 and 29 points respectively, but their teammates combined to score just 42 points (16 points from the bench), and Morris (10 points) was the only other player in double figures. Both he Gortat were was scoreless in the fourth quarter when the Heat outscored the Wizards, 31-19; Otto Porter scored just two points.

Defensively, the Wizards allowed Goran Dragic to run wild the entire game with 34 points on 60 percent shooting, and in the fourth quarter, they had no answer for Coach Erik Spolestra’s decision to go small—specifically James Johnson, who scored 10 of his 14 points in that final stanza and drove the Wizards’ defense crazy with his playmaking ability out of the pick-and-roll:

Per the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner, the prevailing mood was that of frustration, and justifably so. Miami went into that game with the Wizards having lost five straight, they had the worst home record in the NBA at 2-8, and they were without two starters, Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow. Given that six of the Wizards’ next eight games are against Eastern Conference teams ahead of them, they missed a perfect opportunity harvest their nuts by defeating the depleted Heat.

The first of those eight games is tonight against the Charlotte Hornets, who are 14-11 and in third place in the Eastern Conference. They are in the midst of a five-game road trip, and they are 0-2 so far. Their first loss came at the hand of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday when LeBron James went off for 44 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds. The second loss on the trip came against the Pacers on Monday when Kemba Walker was held to a season-low 12 points.

Of particular concern for the Wizards will be the play of Walker, who is even more effective at being a disruptive nuisance on offense than Dragic is with the Heat. Walker can create mismatches on the pick-and-roll with his crafty dribbling, and he’s quick enough off that same dribble to get to the basket with relative ease. He’s averaging career-highs in points (22.8), field goal percentage (46%), 3-point makes (2.6), and 3-point percentage (41.4%).

Indiana chose to double-team Walker on the perimeter before he could get into any pick-and-roll action, and it proved to be effective, with Walker missing his first four shots en route to a 4-for-16 night from the field. The Pacers have the type of rangy big men like Paul George, Myles Turner, and Thaddeus Young, who could assist their guards with those double teams.  Should Wizards Coach Scott Brooks opt to double-team Walker—and he should at times, considering how ineffective Wall, Beal, and Oubre were in attempting to guard Dragic—he could use Otto Porter, Oubre, Andrew Nicholson, and maybe even Jason Smith sparingly to help. Very sparingly.

Sadly Ian Mahinmi, who of all the Wizards big men may be the most equipped to keep Walker out of the paint, is out again with tendinitis in his right knee and is day-to-day. In other injury news, Markieff Morris is OUT tonight for the Wizards due to a sore left foot; Kelly Oubre will start in his place.

Hornets Coach Steve Clifford has already indicated that he wants to do no worse than 2-3 during this trip, and his team’s first opportunity to get that initial win starts tonight at the Verizon Center. Need more motivation? The Wizards have a checkered history with their divisional foe and are 6-10 versus the Hornets since the 2012-13 season.

Memories.

Brendan Haywood and Nene - Washington Wizards vs Charlotte Bobcats - Nov. 24, 2012

 

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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.