Wizards Left Panting in Minnesota, Finish Road Trip Just Shy of Perfection | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Left Panting in Minnesota, Finish Road Trip Just Shy of Perfection

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Updated: March 14, 2017

You know what would really make life easier for the Wizards? Being the same team for 48 minutes. Hell, they don’t even need to be that same team for 48 minutes—40 minutes or so would probably suffice. What won’t work is being a top team for 10-20 minutes per game, a mediocre team for 10-20 minutes, and a bad team for the remainder of the game.

In the case of Monday night’s meeting with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the only team in the NBA that relies more heavily on their starters than the Wizards, Washington was a truly awful team in the first quarter. Offensively, they weren’t good. Defensively, they were the kind of bad where, as a coach, you’re torn between making the team watch the film several times in the ensuing practice, and skipping the film session altogether. But Scott Brooks can’t simply forget about this mess. The Wizards, despite their frankly unbelievable record (41-25) and standing in the Eastern Conference, are in a position nowhere near as good as the surface numbers indicate.

Washington has been abysmal defensively since the All-Star break, and it wasn’t exactly a Grit ‘n Grind squad before the break.

The Wizards are now 24th in DefRtg (110.3) after the All-Star break — and they were tied for ninth before the break at 105.0. They’ve been absolutely atrocious when it comes to getting stops recently, and when they do force a miss, the boxing out is lazy and uninspired.

Shortly before the halfway mark of the second quarter on Monday, the Wolves had two players (Nemanja Bjelica and Karl-Anthony Towns) with 10 points apiece and two players (Ricky Rubio, Brandon Rush) with nine points apiece. Rubio had a 10-pack of assists and just two turnovers to go with his nine points. The Wizards as a team had 38 points, eight assists, and six turnovers. This disaster of a start was not a case of a Wizards killer getting otherworldly hot, as is often the case with their big deficits, nor was it a case of one superstar player taking over.

Rubio, a decent player who has upped his game in recent months, is not a superstar. The Wizards turned him into a superstar, and when he came out of the game, they were unable to take advantage until the sun began setting on the second quarter. Washington gradually began turning the tide, cutting the lead to intriguing numbers such as 10, and 8, and even 6 (!) before it slipped away once again. However, although the Wizards defense didn’t get a whole lot better, a built-in excuse that goes by the name of KAT began to take form.

Towns picked up two fouls in less than four minutes of action, going to the bench at the 8:33 mark of the first quarter. He had just four points when he went to the bench. He re-entered the game at the start of the second quarter, then he proceed to absolutely dominate the basketball game. He finished with 39 points on 17-for-26 shooting, 13 rebounds, two assists, one steal, zero turnovers, and, of course, two fouls. Please never forget Bill Simmons had the worst Karl-Anthony Towns take: “the West’s center for the Good Stats/Bad Team All-Stars — not a compliment”.

The Wizards were getting embarrassed when Towns wasn’t a factor, allowing Rubio to dissect the defense with ease en route to a career-high 19 assists (and 22 points), and then once they finally started to pick things up offensively, Towns took over. It wasn’t surprising when it started happening, and it wasn’t surprising when it was finished. And frankly, it wouldn’t have been surprising before the game started if you’d have peeked into the future, given the horrid defense Washington has played over the past few weeks. All it takes is one dominant player who Washington can’t match up with getting going, and it’s a wrap.

Towns was so good he caused the Wizards’ backup center, Ian Mahinmi, to foul out in just 22 minutes, while committing four turnovers and scoring just five points. Mahinmi and Marcin Gortat together totaled 12 points, 11 rebounds, eight fouls, and five turnovers in 45 combined minutes.

The easy excuse here is the Wizards were exhausted. It’s a fair one. The Wizards were coming off a brutal four-games-in-five-days stretch, the final pair having gone to overtime, and the one before that was played in the always-difficult Denver air. They scored at least 122 points in each of those four games, none was a blowout, and the players had all the reason in the world to be worn out.

But to say most of Washington’s problems against Minnesota were due to fatigue is irresponsible and inaccurate. The offense was disjointed and put up bad shot after bad shot, the ball movement was lackluster, the defensive rotations were lazy or nonexistent, the boxing out was laughable, and the effort all around was shameful.

There are many problems here, not the least of which is John Wall playing roughly 37 minutes per game coming off double knee surgery, as well as Bradley Beal already having played the second-most minutes of his career. (Though this is important: There is a distinct possibility that Wall, Beal, and Gortat will all set total minutes highs this season.) But the Wizards have overachieved by a considerable margin already, and that is something that should be appreciated.

Take this game for what it’s worth and move on, but if the defense doesn’t improve come Wednesday back at the Verizon Center versus Dallas, red flags must be waved. With 16 games left in the regular season, five of which are against teams that have already surpassed 40 wins, things could get ugly very quickly.

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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.