Opening Statements 25: Wizards vs Pistons
What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger. Those are the words of George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series. When he penned those words, he probably never envisioned some basketball blogger in D.C. using that phrase to describe a middling NBA franchise, but here we are discussing a team that has somehow survived many deaths (so far).
On April 9th of the year 2016, the Wizards’ obituary ran on this very site, and it marked the death of the 2015-16 season. That 112-99 loss signified the end of the Randy Wittman era, and as we usher in a new age of Wizards basketball under the tutelage of Scott Brooks, it is important to note that this current team is very much alive. At 10-14, the Wizards are just two games out of the eight seed in the Eastern Conference, and only three games back of the Charlotte Hornets for the division lead and third seed. The Wizards just beat those very Hornets a few nights ago, marking perhaps their most impressive victory of the young season.
The Wizards will need to continue giving ‘maximum effort’ on defense in order to keep a struggling Detroit Pistons offense stifled. The Pistons rank 25th in points per game with 98.9, but it’s not as if the Wizards haven’t already let teams with worst scoring averages than Detroit (Miami 97.3 ppg and Orlando 96.6 ppg) look like offensive juggernauts. The key for the Wizards will be to keep the ninth ranked rebounding team, and the second ranked rebounder in the league (Andre Drummond) off the glass. That task will fall on the shoulders of Marcin Gortat who is fifth in the league in rebouding with 11.8 per game, and has been adept at being a physical presence in the paint. Not only has Gortat been relentless crashing the boards, he has ramped up his activity on the offensive end in terms of screening for the guards to get free. John Wall noted such after the game against the Hornets:
“He did a great job screening. He really didn’t focus on getting the ball as much, he just did a great job screening and rebounding the ball for us. At the end he set good screens and got an opportunity to get the ball and finish at the rim.”
Gortat will need to be on his A-game in terms of screening against the Pistons because the Wizards will need to create as much space as possible for Wall to avoid going up against Drummond, one of the most lethal rim-protectors in the NBA.
Chasing around Wall will be Reggie “makes the same amount as Wall” Jackson, who has only played in six games so far this season after returning from a knee injury. Jackson is rounding into form and scored a season-high 20 points in a win against the Mavericks on Wednesday. Another player who will be key for the Pistons on the defensive end will be Stanley Johnson, who is back in the good graces of Stan Van Gundy. Johnson had a stint with Grand Rapids in the D-League but was instrumental defensively guarding Harrison Barnes, Deron Williams, and Devin Harris in their win versus Dallas.
Washington’s bench has played slightly better since they were thrashed 73-22 in bench scoring by the Orlando Magic a little over a week ago. A big part of the resurgence has been the play of Kelly Oubre, who has ignited the Wizards on the defensive end, while being surprisingly efficient on the offensive end. Oubre started the last game against the Hornets because Morris was out with a sore foot that he suffered against the Miami Heat a few weeks back, and has been playing through pain for a good portion of the season. Morris believes that the injury is not too serious and should be available to face off against his twin brother Marcus Morris tonight after a couple of days of rest (although he’s currently questionable to play). Oubre going back to the second unit should bolster an improving bench. Big man Jason Smith has also quietly improved his play in the month of December, increasing his averages in points per game (5.3 in Dec. vs 3.3 for the season) and field goal percentage (60.7% in Dec. vs 47% for the season).
It would be nice if the Wizards could actually create some type of home court advantage on a Friday night game against a semi-competitive team. The Wizards rank 27th in the NBA in average home attendance with 14,889 fans per game, and honestly that number might be a little generous.
In an attempt to get fans more involved, the Wizards are promoting tonight’s game against the Pistons as Wizards Social Media Night, and the swag they are passing out looks about as enticing as an opportunity to win free chicken when Andre Drummond gets to the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 16, 2016
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 15, 2016