Opening Statements 29: Wizards at Bucks — Another Chance for a Statement Game
Earlier this week on his “Locked on Wizards” podcast, Ben Standig (@BenStandig) spoke with TNT and NBA TV basketball insider David Aldridge about all things Washington Wizards. Aldridge spoke about possible trades the Wizards could make, touched on how paltry the bench performance has been overall during this season, and reiterated just how asinine it would be to trade John F. Wall.
The picture Aldridge painted peppered in the good with the bad, but one of his more salient points involved just how salvageable this season is for the Wizards, despite their slow start (Washington began the season 2-8 and were 12-14 when the podcast was recorded).
“They’re in the East, they’re one game out of the loss column or two games out of the lost column for the last playoff spot? You win five games in a row or four out of five, you’re in the playoffs in the East.”
Now, of course, the playoffs don’t start today, next month, or even three months from now, so for the Wizards to hang their collective hats on sliding into the eighth spot in December is not exactly ambitious. However, given the slow start of this team, and given how depressing and bleak the prospects of a successful season seemed in November and December, their position now should not be easily dismissed.
Coming into tonight’s game in Milwaukee, the Wizards have won four of five games, and just as Mr. Aldridge suggested: they are currently in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and just a half game behind both the Atlanta Hawks, who are in the eighth spot, and the Bucks who are in ninth. If the Wizards defeat the Milwaukee—which they did in D.C. almost two weeks ago—they will not only be in the eighth spot, they will be within two to three games of the third spot in the East. A win tonight will be a statement to themselves—and tangentially, to other conference teams—that they are playoff worthy.
In that Wizards 110-105 win over the Bucks back on December 10, they got a career-night from Kelly Oubre (19 points, and a trio of 3-pointers), and Scott Brooks was willing to get creative and use a smaller “death lineup” of Wall, Beal, Oubre, Porter, and Gortat. During that game the Wizards showed hints of doing the very things that have contributed to them winning four of five games: strong defense when it counts and timely contributions from the bench. Wall got steals, Oubre intermittently frustrated Giannis Antetokounmpo into traveling, and the Wizards as a team forced 20 turnovers. The bench actually overcame a nine-point deficit in the first quarter and gained the lead midway through the second, and in the fourth quarter they stayed within striking distance until the death lineup swooped in and won the game.
On Wednesday night against the Bulls, Washington used the same ingredients: lots of Wall, lots of Beal, and a dash of bench and defense en route to victory. After surrendering 33 points on 62 percent shooting in the opening quarter, the Wizards held the Bulls to just 64 points and 32 percent shooting (including 29% in the fourth quarter) over the remainder of the game.
The bench didn’t have the luxury of a career night from Kelly Oubre this time, but they collectively scored 33 points. Marcus Thornton scored 10 and Sheldon McClellan—playing in his first game since being called up from the D-League and receiving his first game action since scoring six points against the Sixers on November 16—scored seven points in 19 minutes of play and started the second half for the injured Otto Porter (more on him later). It was also his birthday:
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 22, 2016
Defeating Milwaukee for the second time in two weeks is far from a facile feat. Yes, the Bucks are on a two-game losing streak, but those two losses came against the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. On Tuesday night in Milwaukee, they pushed the Cavs to overtime before a late-game 33-footer from LeBron James gave Cleveland the lead for good. The following night in Cleveland, the Bucks stayed close for two and a half quarters, thanks to Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, then Kyrie Irving and James put their foot on the gas and turned the fourth quarter into extended garbage time. Still, their two close losses, combined with their 118-101 victory over the Cavs on November 29, have clearly gotten the attention of the Cleveland’s finest, as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin wrote about here.
Irving’s comments were particularly telling:
“Asked about a potential playoff series with the Bucks, Irving said, ‘I hope, man. I hope. They’re a great young team. It would be great to go four games against them. I’m fired up to go against them every time now, for real. Ever since they kicked our ass in Milwaukee, it’s been personal, and it’s going to continue to be personal.’ “
The Bucks have gotten consistent contributions from Antetokounmpo (22.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game) and Parker (20.1 points and 5.6 rebounds), but no other player currently averages double-figures. Michael Beasley has been hurt, John Henson and Greg Monroe have been inconsistent, Tony Snell’s malaise has followed him from Chicago, Matthew Dellavadova has been solid, and the rest of the roster is still young and raw, but impressive. Especially young Malcom Brogdon, who did what Andre Iguodala should have done to LeBron in the 2016 NBA Finals:
— NBA (@NBA) December 21, 2016
After the game in locker room, Otto Porter looked in pain as he sat in his chair. Got treatment thru second half, heat applied to lower back
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) December 22, 2016
- The aforementioned Otto Porter did not play in the second half in Chicago due to back spams, and as of right now, there’s no word on whether he’ll play tonight. Scott Brooks opted to start McClellan in his place against the Bulls, and considering how well Kelly Oubre is playing off the bench as of late, he may opt to do the same against the Bucks.
- Former Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach George Karl is currently in the hottest of hot water for the leaked excerpts from his upcoming book, “Furious George.” The details of the insults aren’t worth repeating here, but he’s managed to take shots at Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, and Hall of Famer Allen Iverson. So far, none of the leaks have mentioned the Bucks, which is surprising given Karl’s mercurial five-year tenure (1998-2003), and the equally mercurial cast of characters (Glenn Robinson, Tim Thomas and Rafer Alston). Also worth noting: Ernie Grunfeld was the Bucks GM from 1999 to 2003. That team fell one game short of the NBA Finals in 2001 (Iverson scored 44 points that day to lead his Sixers over the Bucks into the Finals). Here is what was written by Peter May of ESPN.com about Karl not long after he was fired:
“Karl, really, was the visible presence of the Bucks. To paraphrase Don Nelson, he was the Milwaukee Bucks. He certainly never lacked for confidence, even as teams splintered around him and underachieved. The 2001-02 Bucks set the gold standard for spring collapses. The 2002 World Championship team lost three games and finished in sixth place. Karl presided over both of those disappointing squads.
“By then, his coaching ability, once suspect, was no longer so. He had taken over a .500 team in Seattle (albeit from K.C. Jones) and turned it into a conference champ. But he had worn out his stay there, feuding openly with GM/President Wally Walker. He surfaced in Milwaukee, inheriting a team that had not made the postseason in seven years. He took it to the playoffs in his first three seasons. The guy can coach. No one else in the Eastern Conference beat the Nets even once in the playoffs last spring. He did it twice — and scared them to death in a pivotal Game 5.
“But he also can be high maintenance. And Kohl decided he was too high maintenance to coach the next incarnation of the Bucks.”
- Matthew Dellavedova was signed then traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in the offseason after three season in Cleveland, which culminated in him winning an NBA title. He literally did the dirty work at the point guard position, and in the 2015 NBA Finals he did a yeoman’s job filling in for the injured Kyrie Irving. He finally received his championship ring on Wednesday night in Cleveland, and former teammates were not bashful in showing their appreciation. Here’s what “Delly” had to say after the game:
Matthew Dellavedova AKA Delly talks about returning to Cleveland and receiving his championship ring. pic.twitter.com/IWBExgWp37
— Matt Medley (@MedleyHoops) December 22, 2016
- TAI’s Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202) wrote a long and thorough article about the state of the Washington Wizards this season (through Monday’s win against the Clippers). Please give it a read here.
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