Wizards Beat Lakers: Fool's Gold or the Start of Something New? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Beat Lakers: Fool’s Gold or the Start of Something New?

Updated: November 10, 2017

[Photo from @WashWizards]

The Washington Wizards have done so much talking during this young season that even they think it’s time to shut up.

Against the Los Angeles Lakers, the over-talked topic was defense. “We got tired of talking about it,” said Bradley Beal in the post-game locker room. “We continue to preach about it and saying ‘we need to do this’ ‘we need to do that’.”

John Wall agreed: “Can’t keep talking about it. We know what to do. We see it on film every day.”

Yet after the first 12 minutes of the game, it seemed like the Wizards were far from having any idea what to do on the defensive end. The Lakers scored 34 points on 51.9 percent shooting, with many of their 14 baskets coming on uncontested drives to the rim, the most embarrassing of which was Jordan Clarkson’s wide open layup with 1.8 seconds remaining in the period.

Luckily, something clicked for the Wizards at the start of the second quarter and they held the Lakers to three straight quarters of sub-.400 shooting. Coach Scott Brooks stated the obvious: “We stopped giving [up] layups.” He’s right. Washington started contesting shots in transition, including three tremendous chase-down blocks from Wall, and disrupting the Lakers passing lanes. After shooting 14-for-27 in the first period, Los Angeles shot a combined 17-for-59 for the remainder of the game—an astonishing 28.8 percent.

As Wall explained, Washington was able to build a commanding 20-point lead in the third quarter by converting the Lakers’ missed baskets into fast break opportunities:

“When you do a great job of challenging shots other than a couple of fouls we gave at the end, just challenging shots, making it tough and getting in the passing lanes, it excites our defense and ignites our offense because we get out in transition and can make layups and knock down threes.”

However, Washington’s season-long defensive woes were not magically fixed during that impressive 36-minute stretch. A lot of the Lakers’ struggles were self-inflicted. Los Angeles was playing back-to-back games after flying cross-country to play Boston the night before in a game where the starters logged major minutes.

Lakers coach Luke Walton did not want to make any excuses after his team’s loss, but he laid out some compelling facts:

“Not to make excuses but we fly across the country to play two of the best teams in the East. I mean these teams are going to be playing, competing for Eastern Conference titles later this year. It’s a back-to-back and we play a lot of young guys. They’re trying to figure out how the NBA works and what it’s about. I thought physically they gave us the effort that they had in the tank but mentally we weren’t there. I mean we gave up 27 points off of our turnovers, which we can’t do. You’re not going to win on the road like that.  We weren’t making open shots. We missed 11 free throws. There’s a lot of things that mentally we just weren’t sharp enough to beat a good team on the road tonight.”

In short, not to go all Matthew McConaughy and Kate Hudson on you, but this Lakers win may be fool’s gold. The Wizards have two winnable home games in the next four days (Atlanta and Sacramento) before going on the road for six of their last eight games in November. For this Lakers win to mean anything, Washington has to play consistent basketball over the next eight quarters, as opposed to the inconsistent basketball they displayed against Dallas earlier this week.

Wall gets it: “Next game if we don’t do it, it’s just a waste of time. We’ve got to find a way to be one of those teams that can do it on a nightly basis.”

So does Beal: “We finally put [our defensive talk] into action but now we got to be more consistent with it moving forward.”

Brooks too: “It’s not solved, our defense, but it’s a start.”

All that talk is great, but as Washington proved versus the Lakers, it does not mean anything until you back it up on the court.

Otto, Otto, Everywhere

Scott Brooks is still trying to figure out his bench rotation but the one thing he is sure about is Otto Porter. With Markieff Morris still rounding into form and Kelly Oubre not yet dependable, Otto has become Brooks’ security blanket on the second unit.

Against the Lakers, Otto played the entire first quarter. Then, when the second quarter began, he was right back on the court, playing the next three minutes as the lone starter with the bench unit. In total, Porter played the first 14:52 minutes of the game.

The second half was even more extreme. Otto started the third quarter and did not come out of the game until 3:33 left in the fourth quarter. That’s over 20 straight minutes.

Brooks admitted that he might have gone a little overboard after the game:

“I probably used him a few minutes more than I would have liked. But we needed him. We needed a solid defender that wasn’t going to gamble and we needed another shooter and they were switching, they were playing small, so he needed to play some extra minutes for us.”

Otto’s total minutes (38:26) were not the problem. It’s the distribution of those minutes and what it says about Brooks’ trust in his bench. Outside of Kelly Oubre, who played 24 minutes, Brooks is not comfortable with any other defenders. This may not be a problem against a tired, inexperienced Lakers team, but the lack of bench production will come back to bite the Wizards against stronger competition. The one caveat is that the bench rotation will be a lot less reliant on Otto once Markieff Morris returns to form. Speaking of which…

The Return of Markieff Morris

Markieff Morris returned to the starting lineup on November 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but it could be argued that this was his real season debut. For the first time, Markieff looked like his old self for stretches. He scored 16 points in 17 minutes (6-for-7 FG), including back-to-back 3s to open the fourth quarter. Although, as Markieff explained, he had some divine intervention on those shots: “I was stiff as hell when I hit those 3s, man. I guess I prayed on them.”

As good as it was to see Markieff’s shot falling again, he did reveal some unexpected injury news during his always entertaining post-game comments. After saying that he thinks it will take a couple more games to get completely back to 100%, Morris revealed that he is still dealing with the ankle injury he suffered during the Celtics playoff series last year.

Markieff downplayed the ankle injury, calling it an annoyance, and joked that he had five MRIs, 20 X-rays and 17 CT scans and he’ll be fine.

Morris also exited the game briefly in the first quarter when his knee locked up on him but he returned to the game and the injury does not appear serious.

Ian Mahinmi Goes Full Vesely

It’s been a rough season for everyone’s favorite punching bag, Ian Mahinmi. Against the Lakers, he did his best Jan Vesely summer league impersonation and fouled out in 13:42 minutes. During those minutes, he amassed one rebound and two turnovers, to go along with two points (2-for-3 FT). Meanwhile, Jason Smith still exists.

John Wall Does it Again

And again.

And again.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.