Wizards Search for Answers After Another Loss, But the Only Question is: Where’s the Defense? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Search for Answers After Another Loss, But the Only Question is: Where’s the Defense?

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Updated: November 8, 2017

There were no moral victories to be won at Capital One Arena Tuesday evening. The Wizards dropped their third consecutive home game of the season, and the ninth straight to the Dallas Mavericks overall. From Scott Brooks on down, the word of the night was “effort.” When asked how the Wizards can improve their intensity on the defensive end, Bradley Beal lamented the fact that the Wizards were complacent:

“It’s effort and mentality. You have got to want to defend. You can’t get comfortable, you can’t get lazy, you can’t get complacent with doing it. It’s something that you have to have the will to do.

“We had it last year, we showed spurts of it here and there, and we have shown that we can get three or four stops in a row but I couldn’t tell you one time where that happened tonight. So we need to get back to our style of basketball, helping each other and taking pride in our defense.”

The effort talk surrounding the team has been going on all season, which is odd considering this is the same team that has repeatedly declared themselves the best team in the East. The team was riding high on confidence, maybe too high, in fact—and that hubris has this team flying too close to the sun. They’re getting burned.

Coming into the game, the Wizards, who were without John Wall, sealed a big road win against the Toronto Raptors and had every reason to be feeling themselves heading into a matchup against the 1-10 Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs had been reeling, stained by a six-game losing streak, before they arrived in the nations’s capital, but maybe all they needed was to see the Wizards and their 24th-ranked scoring defense to get back on track.

Dallas started hot and never wavered from their strategy to feature their lone max-player, Harrison Barnes, as an isolation offensive weapon throughout the night. Barnes scored 31 points on just 18 shot attempts, as he methodically manufactured points during the game. The Wizards seemed content on forcing that particular action from Barnes, and perhaps rightfully so, considering Barnes had been averaging 0.91 points per possession on isolation plays coming into the season.

Coach Brooks made the right analytical decision to force a sub-par ISO player to beat them, but Barnes did just that.

When Barnes was asked about how the Wizards defended him, he did not hold back: “I guess they didn’t think I was a good ISO-scorer. I had to make them pay.”

The Wizards strategy was right in this instance, but the lack of energy on the defensive end led to their demise. One of the biggest metrics that can tangibly explain the energy being displayed is rebounding, and the Wizards were out-rebounded 53 to 39 by the Mavericks. A big key to that discrepancy in boards was the play of Mavericks center Salah Mejri. He grabbed 12 rebounds to go along with his 10 points and the Wiz did not seem to have an answer for him. The seemingly logical solution to that problem would be to insert backup center Ian Mahinmi, who was paid handsomely in 2016 to be the defensive presence and enforcer that this team desperately needed. Mahinmi, however, has found himself on the outside looking in of Brooks’s regular rotation, and he watched Jason Smith play crucial fourth-quarter minutes in his stead.

Scott Brooks mentioned after the game that he purposefully looked to Smith to bring some energy to the team: “We were down 12, 13, 14 points, and the only way we were going to make an effort was to bring some energy. One thing Jason [Smith] does is he plays hard and he plays his butt off for the team. I got to figure out how to play him more. That’s been on me the last few days and my job is to figure out how I get him more minutes. He deserves it.”

By the sound of Brooks’s comments, this did not seem like a hastily-made decision, but rather one that could determine who will be getting the lion’s share of those backup center minutes going forward. Smith started out the year as the starter at power forward, in the absence of Markieff Morris, but sustained a shoulder injury in the Sixers game that has kept him limited for the majority of the season. Now that Smith is finally healthy, Brooks plans on using his versatility and veteran leadership as a catalyst to help jump-start the second unit. Fixing the second unit would be an extreme plus, but it does nothing to help the starters play more inspired basketball in the beginning of games.

The Wizards fancy themselves as Eastern Conference contenders, and the responsibility is on them to back it up. Obviously, this is not the start that this team envisioned when the season began, but John Wall did not seem to be panicking just yet. When asked about the difference between this season’s 5-5 start and last year’s 2-8 opening, Wall handled the inquiry with the grace of a politician: The only difference is that we are .500. That is the only difference, in my opinion. I think some guys are playing a lot better than what we did last year. It was kind of different because we did not know what coach wanted and expected and we did not know how to run the offense, but we know all of that now so that is not an excuse.”

Yes, the team is .500, but the goal at the beginning of the year was to establish themselves as legitimate contenders in the East and try to secure one of the top seeds, ensuring themselves a home playoff series in the second round. Currently the Wizards are behind schedule, and while it is a long season, losing to a 1-10 teams is certainly not a good omen.

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
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Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. He is going into his second season writing for Truth About It, and also writes for sports analytics website numberfire.com. You can find him in a district bike lane in the Northwest neighborhood of Bloomingdale.