How the Wizards Burrowed Out of the Borough and Beat the Nets | Wizards Blog Truth About

How the Wizards Burrowed Out of the Borough and Beat the Nets

Updated: February 9, 2017

[photo via]

[photo via]

Coming off of the most entertaining game of the 2016-17 season, the Wizards were in prime position for a letdown game against the Brooklyn Nets. Call it overlooking your opponent or call it a trap game, but the East’s No. 3 team will call it a win. The Nets came into Wednesday night with nine total wins, and the fact that this Wizards team did not allow them to get to double-digits is a testament to how different this iteration of Washington Wizards is from years past.

The strength of this team has been the starting lineup, one of the most potent in the NBA. When one of the cogs is missing, it jeopardizes the way this usually well-oiled machine runs. Just before tip-off, starting power forward Markieff Morris was ruled out due to a calf strain. Keef might be the fifth most important player of the starting unit, but his contribution over the last few weeks has been undeniable. In the last 10 games, Morris is averaging 18.4 points and 8.4 rebounds.

Replacing Markieff in the starting lineup was Kelly Oubre, who is having a breakout season of his own, but is not on the same plane skill-wise as Markieff. Oubre struggled mightily in his second start of the season, finishing with zero points on five missed shots. The problem with Oubre replacing Morris is that he’s almost completely reliant on his teammates spoon-feeding him good looks at the basket, whereas Morris is more than comfortable creating his own shot, especially when he is the dominant offensive force among the Wizards second unit.

Oubre is generally able to defend up to Morris’ standard, but basketball is a game of matchups. The second-year wing struggled to contend with the size of ex-Wizard Trevor Booker, who had himself a good game against his former comrades. Booker finished the game with 14 points and 11 rebounds, with six of those 11 boards coming on the offensive end. Brooklyn finished with 15 total offensive rebounds, which directly contributed to the Wizards being outscored 50-38 in the paint.

Jason Smith played all of his 24 minutes at 4, and it helped make up for Morris’ absence against the bigger Nets players. Smith had 15 points (5-9 FGs) and 8 rebounds, and looked as efficient as he has all season. Smith has the high basketball IQ to read his teammates and react accordingly. For the majority of the season, he has been known for his pick-and-pop game that opens him for midrange jumpers — and he’s even fired a few from 3-point land. In Brooklyn, Jason also provided some roll action that the Wizards needed. Smith earned himself seven free throw attempts by working in the paint and using a bevy of pump fakes to keep defenders off balance.

When Trey Burke made a 3-pointer to put the Wizards up 82-72 with a little over 11 minutes left, the outcome seemed like a mere formality. But the defensive intensity was not the same as against the defending world champs on Monday night, or even through the first three quarters against the lowly Nets. They allowed Brooklyn to score a game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. And Washington’s offense responded with a stagnant 21 points, letting the Nets players build confidence along the way.

John Wall was not as sharp as he has been in crunch-time moments, most notably when losing sight of his man on the defensive end, or being a second too late on closeouts of 3-pointers by Sean Kilpatrick and Isaiah Whitehead.

Another weakness that was exposed by the Nets was Marcin Gortat’s late-game defense. Gortat, who has complained in the past because former head coach Randy Wittman would elect to leave the Polish Machine on the bench at the end of games, struggled mightily trying to stay in front of quicker players. There were several times when Bojan Bogdanovic was isolated on Gortat and drove right past him for easy lay-ins. Another time, Gortat bit on a pump fake from a 28 percent 3-point shooter, Trevor Booker, and succumbed to another dribble drive. This is where the presence of Ian Mahinmi would help this Wizards squad.

Mahinmi re-introduced himself to Wizards faithful by making his second appearance of the season, the other coming on November 26. In just 12 minutes of game action, Mahinmi was able to flash some of that defensive prowess and lateral quickness that piqued Ernie Grunfeld’s interest when the Wizards signed the big man to a four-year, $64 million contract last summer. Mahinmi finished the game with two points, five rebounds, and one steal.

The Wizards were not so much caught playing down to an opponent, more so they didn’t play up to their potential. A loss still would have been a major blemish for a team striving for something greater than just a playoff berth. The Wizards are now 31-21, and in what could be a see-saw till the end, the Raptors and Celtics each lost on Wednesday night. Every game counts toward seeding, which will be key to avoiding the Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs. Still, it would have been very easy for the Wizards to not come out with the same level of focus and intensity and lose the game, but this new and improved team is showing their mental toughness and superior talent level by avoiding traps while seeing the path ahead.


Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.