Wizards Blog Truth About It.net http://www.truthaboutit.net Washington Wizards Blog, ESPN TrueHoop Network Thu, 16 Feb 2017 23:45:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Wizards Trade is Necessary, But Think of the Children http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/wizards-trade-is-necessary-but-think-of-the-children.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/wizards-trade-is-necessary-but-think-of-the-children.html#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 23:12:45 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52999 2015-basketball-court-columbia-heights-IG-truthaboutit

I like the idea of the Wizards making a move before the trade deadline to grab up a guard who can do some scoring off the bench. God knows they need one. Trey Burke has played better in the last month or so, but his vision and anticipation skills are still alarmingly poor for an NBA guard, and Scott Brooks’ bench units still have an infuriating tendency to lapse into brutal, aimless perimeter handoff routines that are lucky to culminate in tightly contested jumpers, instead of turnovers. Tomas Satoransky is a capable ball-handler with a calming influence on the offense, but his timidity as a scorer is still an issue, and he will probably never be quick or creative enough to get deep into the paint off the dribble against a set defense. And Sheldon McClellan, bless him, is too frantic with the ball. The Wizards could stand to upgrade with a guard who can do some things. A guard like, say, Will Barton would look really interesting alongside, say, Satoransky and Kelly Oubre — the trio could, in theory, hide Barton defensively and let him create his own opportunities when the offense otherwise bogs down. Insert whoever you like, there (I like Barton much more than I like Lou Williams or Brandon Knight) — the basics are pretty straightforward: the Wizards have an opening for a rotation-grade guard who can score.

Like any shopper who is not my mother-in-law, I like the idea of the thing a lot less as its cost rises. Things have costs, and good things cost more than bad things (most of the time), and so finding a guard who can actually move the needle for Washington is going to require a little bloodletting. This is where we run up against what exactly we want our Wizards to be. And in order to hone in on what we want them to be, we have to form a complete sense of what they really are. Thankfully, this is a lot less depressing an undertaking than it has been in recent years! The Wizards are good. Not meh, they’re good, and not they’re good BUT, but the deep, guttural gooooooood that issues forth after a bite of a really excellent brownie. The Wizards (deep breath) are good (whew) in a way that actually matters in the NBA. As I sit here, there are four teams in the NBA ranked in the top ten in both offensive rating and defensive rating, and the Wizards are one of them. Only the Spurs, Rockets, and Warriors have better records since December 1. The Wizards, right now, are good.

(Because you have been reared in the all-or-nothing world of American sports, and because your language is the native language of Thom Loverro and Skip Bayless and Jason Whitlock, you look at the word “good” and your mind immediately begins to scan for the dimensions of the gap between the Wizards and Greatness. Stop that. I would like to invite you to consider an alternate way of conceiving of greatness. I would like for you to consider it not as it is used in the world of somber, heavy-handed sports writing, but as it is used in loud, drunken conversations about your favorite bands. What is the greatest pop band of all time? The greatest pop band of all time is probably The Beatles, even though I genuinely like less than half of their songs, and don’t especially like any of them. Are they the best band? Perhaps not. Are they my favorite band? Definitely not. But they are definitely two things: they are definitely a good band, and they are definitely a great band. How will we know when or if the Wizards ever achieve greatness? We will know if, at some point in the future, we are drunkenly arguing about where they rank among the great teams of their era. Greatness is not a prerequisite of championships; greatness is the reward.)

It’s a blessing to be good. It’s hard! Ask the Hornets, who thought they were good, and made a series of moves this past offseason based around the belief that they were fundamentally good, and are now not remotely good. Ask the Trail Blazers, who thought they could shore up their basic goodness with Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli, and are now bad. Ask the 2015-16 Washington Wizards, who thought it would be a good idea to punt on jealously clutching their nascent goodness in order to take a home run crack at being Great, and were instead miserable and not good.

What we have learned along the arc of John Wall’s time in D.C. is that even a minimally functional, talent-poor squad built around his singular talents is still solid enough to be merely miserable and not good, instead of awful. Even with a maddeningly inconsistent and unhealthy Bradley Beal, a slow-developing Otto Porter, Kris Humphries interloping as an NBA starter, and on not one but TWO bum knees, John Wall is good for something like 41 wins. If this season has taught us anything, it’s that the gains made in leap years by Beal and Porter go directly into the win column. In other words, this good Wizards team is the sum of an equation that adds almost fully realized versions of Beal and Porter to the John Wall foundation. This is exciting, because Beal and Porter are both 23 years old and are under team control for exactly however many of the next five years the team wants them. John Wall plus good Bradley Beal plus good Otto Porter is a formula Washington fans can probably count on for the next half decade.

Another capable guard might just be enough to move the needle a click in the right direction — a few minutes per game of less urgency for the team’s core, or another potential weapon in a tight playoff series, or another lineup option for specific matchups, or a decent fallback in case of injury — but the important starting point is this: the Wizards, as constructed, are good, and they have a fair chance of staying good for a few more years. Goodness is, um, good, because good NBA teams (and there aren’t that many) are never more than a few breaks away from a long playoff run, and long playoff runs tend to accelerate internal improvements in a way that training camps often don’t. And Washington’s goodness isn’t very complex, like a sudden alchemical bullseye for an otherwise underwhelming roster — John Wall brought them to competency, and they needed one or both of their key developmental pieces to make a leap from working-class NBA rotation player to above average starter. That has happened, and here we are.

The virtue of building in this way — via internal player development—is that you never have to cast about with a whole lot of imagination to figure where you might find the engine of your next potential leap. If Bradley Beal can stay healthy, and develops a serviceable floor game, the Wizards will, by definition, improve upon their current level of play. Or, if Otto Porter can consistently knock down all those open 3s he’s getting, the Wizards will, by definition, improve upon their current level of play. So, if you are wondering how the Wizards will make another leap, from wherever they are right now to something that is even better, I would invite you to consider the play of young Kelly Oubre. His floor game is a mess. His finishing around the basket is sloppy. He’s not much of a passer. His 3-point shot comes and goes. But! He’s a fine and useful defender, and he saunters into a handful of open 3-point attempts per game, and he is firmly a net positive as a rotation player on this team. Here is the equation: If Kelly Oubre can consistently knock down those open 3s he’s getting, and improves his floor game a little, the Wizards will, by definition, improve upon their current level of play.

This is why the Wizards need to be careful about the cost of moving the needle in the short term. If, say, Lou Williams fails to move the needle, or turns into a pumpkin, the Wizards might still be a good team, and being good is better than being not good. But Lou Williams is a fully realized NBA player. Losing a developmental piece in his acquisition carries an opportunity cost, even for a team that is already good, because the team loses the clarity of knowing how they might drive their next potential leap. It’s important that the Wizards identify which of their developmental pieces are already useful to the team, and appropriately value the potential win-column gains to be reaped from natural and expected improvement among those pieces, and not trick themselves into devaluing those gains in pursuit of tradeoffs made in the margins around the core of their present goodness. Kelly Oubre is already a guy who can defend Isaiah Thomas and waltz into open 3s. If he starts making those 3s, watch out. If he starts making those 3s and learns how to attack a closeout, he will be magic. That potential — a magic man who defends elite scorers and knocks down 3s alongside a very good Wall-Beal-Porter core — is an awful lot to dangle for a useful guard who can shore up a vulnerability on a good team.

This isn’t about Oubre specifically, so much as it is about the clamor to cast about for external pieces to shore up vulnerabilities on the existing squad. The value of player development isn’t just in the quality of the players in the developmental pipeline, is what I’m saying. It’s in having an identifiable path forward with players whose roles have already begun taking shape in a system the needs of which are already known. The Wizards have a rare and precious opportunity to potentially take several steps forward over the next couple years without any significant reconfiguration. I’m not sure you break that up for Will Barton! I have suffered through long decades of miserable Washington basketball. This Wizards team is probably the best Wizards/Bullets team of my lifetime. Trey Burke is bad, but the quality gap between Lou Williams and Trey Burke is probably not enough for me to forgive lost years of improvement bought on the rising tide of player development.

Unless it is. Shit.

Know that, whatever happens, I will be here to hang my disappointment around Ernie Grunfeld’s neck like the heaviest yoke in the history of yokes.

Just leave Kelly Oubre out of your Trade Machine exploits, dammit.

washington wizards, truth about it, kelly oubre


 

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The Wizards Were Rolling Thunder in DC http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/the-wizards-were-rolling-thunder-in-dc.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/the-wizards-were-rolling-thunder-in-dc.html#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 16:56:41 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52983
[via instagram.com/washwizards]

[via instagram.com/washwizards]

Every Memorial Day weekend, Washington, D.C., is treated to a motorcycle motorcade of some of the most badass Americans to ever live. The bikers ride into the nation’s capital to honor Americans who fought in the Vietnam War, and were either captured and held as Prisoners of War (POWs) or went Missing in Action (MIA). It’s a unique and symbolic way to recognize those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, through the bravado of thousands of bikers clad in outfits straight out of “Sons of Anarchy” descending upon the District. The Wizards and Thunder played a basketball game on Monday and by no means is this meant to compare the two worlds, but the swagger and confidence of this basketball team has bandwagoners coming from far and wide to get in on whatever’s brewing in D.C.

We witnessed the “Rolling Thunder” two months earlier than expected.

The new national television darlings of the NBA put on a show for the TNT audience on consecutive Mondays. This time, the Wizards did not let one of the great players in the league (Westbrook) go off in miraculous fashion to break Wizards fans’ hearts like LeBron did last week.

Russell Westbrook must have left all of his fiery emotions on the Chesapeake Energy arena floor Saturday night, because in 24 minutes of game action he was missing the regular ferocity that even the most casual NBA fan has come to expect. When asked about the emotional hangover from the Golden State game, Westbrook responded, “I’m not sure.” When asked to expound on the lack of energy, Westbrook kept it as simple as possible: “We just weren’t ready to play.”

The Wizards were. There is no way that an NBA team, in this case Oklahoma City, can win a game in which they shoot 34-for-96 (35.4%) from the field without a total collapse from the opponent. Against the Wizards, the Thunder’s offensive performance included a string of 24 consecutive missed shots, an NBA record. The Wizards, in sharp contrast, made 57.5 percent of their field goal attempts and eclipsed the 100-point mark for the 21st straight game.

Scott Brooks was asked about the Wizards scoring outburst and he did not hesitate to credit the team’s ball movement:

As a team, the Wizards had 24 assists through three quarters (27 for the game). The Wizards’ ball movement was masterful, allowing them to whip the ball around the perimeter, passing up good shots for better ones, and, individually, John Wall was in full “Optimus Dime” mode. He finished with 14 assists, including a between-the-legs pass to Otto Porter on a fast-break that defied principles of physics and resulted in a slam dunk.

The last time the Wizards and Thunder met, Washington blew a fourth-quarter lead because Westbrook was superhuman and the supporting cast was adequate. A mere mortal Westbrook, combined with just 21 points from the other four starters, resulted in a vastly different outcome. No doubt that the Thunder missed a lot of shots that professional basketball players are expected to hit, but credit to the Wizards who have ratcheted up their defense over the last 15 games and boast a top-5 defensive rating (103.1 4th overall) over that span.

Wall acknowledged that the Wizards clearly are much better on the defensive end now than they were in their first meeting against the Thunder:

“Last time we played them, we were up in the fourth quarter and had the chance to win it. We didn’t play the defense we were playing now and weren’t making shots as well as we are now. I think we did everything right, both ends of the floor.”

A key to the Wizards having success against the Thunder defensively and forcing 24 missed shots in a row was not allowing Westbrook to penetrate the defense at will, forcing him to concede the ball to his less talented teammates. The Thunder came into sellout Verizon Center ranked 29th in the NBA in 3-point shooting and most certainly did not help that percentage by going 7-for-34 (20.5%) from deep in this game.

But the entire game was not as smooth as the final score might indicate. At the end of the first quarter the Wizards found themselves up by only six points after starting the game on a 22-6 run. Bradley Beal had to sit down early because of two fouls, but he started the game in full-blown heat check mode. When Brooks was asked about Beal’s efficiency (22 points on just eight shots), he said “[Beal] was in a zone that first quarter, you could just see it.” And Brooks was right—Brad was as locked in as he has ever been in a Wizards uniform, and only needed 22 minutes of game action to make an imprint on the final result.

Beal’s foul trouble forced a lot of Trey Burke and Tomas Satoransky playing time, except the very same ball-movement that allowed the starters to flourish was again almost non-existent among the second unit. I asked coach Brooks specifically what he is seeing from that backcourt pairing that is not allowing them to get into the flow of the offense:

The problem with the Wizards offense when the second unit is on the floor is that they do not have a player in that lineup who is comfortable enough being both a good decision maker and a competent ball-handler to get the team into the offense in a timely fashion. Trey Burke had a decent scoring night, completing a few dazzling layups and even a buzzer beating jump-shot to end the third quarter, but overall his lack of traditional point guard skills hurts the second unit. Satoransky has displayed the willingness to pass the ball, and pass players open, but is currently lacking the proper ball-handling skills that would instill confidence in Scott Brooks relinquishing the reigns of the second unit to the Czech rookie. Satoransky struggled against the pesky ball pressure from Cameron Payne, who is not even known as a defensive stopper.

It wasn’t until the Wizards went back to their starting lineup at the 7:20 mark of the second quarter that this team was able to finally pull away from the lethargic Thunder. Nursing a 50-47 lead, the Wizards finished the half on a 17-7 run that would open up the game for good.

Markieff Morris was one of the catalysts who allowed the Wizards to go into the halftime locker room up 13 points. Morris scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the first half as he continues this stretch of some of the most inspiring ball of his career. A large part of Keef’s impact is that he is the one starter who plays significant minutes surrounded by bench players, and is able to shoulder the load offensively in such lineups. When Morris is playing active on both ends of the floor, the Wizards have an elite lineup of players with complementary skill sets. Since the start of the new year, Morris has a team Net Rating of 10.8, the highest mark on the team over that stretch.

While the second quarter was the beginning of the Wizards finding their groove, the third quarter was a tour de force of basketball that allowed the home team to blow the doors off of OKC. This time it was Otto Porter who was the catalyst, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the frame on 4-for-5 shooting from the field. While the Thunder could not buy a bucket, the Wizards offense was firing on all cylinders. And John Wall quarterbacked the whole scenario. Seven of Wall’s 14 assists came in this quarter, leaving no room for a miraculous comeback like the last outing between these two teams.

The fact that the Wizards outscored the Thunder 34-19 in the quarter allowed Scott Brooks to experiment with different lineups that he would otherwise never be able to see. We got another glimpse of Ian Mahinmi, this time playing alongside the other four starters—in nearly four minutes of game action, we were left just as confused about what the team has in Mahinmi as we were coming into tonight. Mahinmi finished the game with four points and no rebounds, but the fact that he has been able to successfully play in the last three games without any setbacks is positive enough. The one negative aspect of using minutes to evaluate Mahinmi is that it takes away minutes from Jason Smith, whose biggest value to the team was stealing minutes at center because he is more effective there than at his listed position of power forward.

The final score may be surprising to some, but this was the same Wizards team over the course of 48 minutes of game action that we’ve seen since January. The starting five is as dynamic and versatile as any 5-man unit in the league and the bench is still as up and down as ever. But it is a luxury not afforded to all to be able to go through these growing pains while maintaining complete dominance. The future is as bright as it ever was for professional basketball in this town, at least for this season.

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NBA Catwatch Investigative Report: Where’s Whiskers? http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/nba-catwatch-investigative-report-wheres-whiskers.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/nba-catwatch-investigative-report-wheres-whiskers.html#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 16:24:47 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52947 NBA Catwatch is a website and twitter account dedicated to figuring out which NBA players own cats. The site also raises money for cat causes through sales of t-shirts, socks and other items. Whenever an NBA players mentions a cat on social media or is otherwise connected to one, NBA Catwatch investigates. TAI recently partnered with NBA Catwatch to uncover a developing story involving the Washington Wizards.

cathat

[Unidentified cat in a wizards hat; Photo: Etsy.]

The story begins almost four years ago with an innocuous tweet. Andrew Nicholson, then a first-year player with the Orlando Magic, shared some sad news with his followers: his family cat, Friskit, was dead.

There was nothing particularly noteworthy about the tweet, and it followed the customary life-cycle for such social media pronouncements — a few notes of condolence for the fallen furry friend, a thankful acknowledgment from the bereaved, and some hopeful words for a better tomorrow — before fading away, buried beneath the unrelenting sea of noise that is life’s timeline. Such is the ephemeral nature of the twitterverse.

But this tweet had a second act. It would take almost four years, but in early February NBA Catwatch unearthed Friskit’s obituary and noticed an unexpected message of hope buried within: “I still have whiskers!”

There have been no other mentions of Whiskers in the more than three years since Friskit’s death. NBA Catwatch’s attempts to reach Nicholson concerning the feline’s whereabouts and welfare went unanswered — as did attempts to enlist the help of Wizards media.

I was following the breaking story on Twitter and decided to lend a hand. Before Washington played the Los Angeles Lakers on February 2, I approached Nicholson as he sat in a nearly empty locker room 75 minutes before tip-off. I explained the subject matter of my inquiries and he agreed to talk. We would finally learn what became of Whiskers.

What followed was a frank discussion about life, death, and cats (video below).


Adam Rubin: You tweeted about a cat a few years ago.

Andrew Nicholson: He’s dead.

Is that Friskit?

Yeah.

You said you had another cat named Whiskers.

[pause] Oh, that cat’s dead too.

[Ed. Note. Some viewers noticed laughter coming from this reporter after Nicholson’s response. While the observation is accurate, the intent was not malevolent. I was caught off guard by Nicholson’s deadpan responses and the fact that every cat I asked about received the same response, “he’s dead.” No disrespect to Whiskers was intended.]

Whiskers is dead too?

Yeah.

How long did you have Whiskers?

My mom actually got it. It died, I’m gonna say, like six months ago.

The cat was living with you or with your mom?

She found a litter of cats in a box in the woods and she took one of them and gave one to her friend. It was a wild cat so…

Do you have any plans to get any other cats?

Nah, no.

So you are not really that much of a cat person?

After my cat died, not really.

How long did you have Friskit?

He was about thirteen, thirteen and a half.

You said Friskit was the best pet anyone could have. What made Friskit so good?

He had dog-like features, believe it or not. He’d fetch stuff. He was always around pretty much.

Do any other Wizards players own cats?

No. I don’t think anybody does.

Is there anybody on the team you think could be a cat person?

I don’t think anybody on this team likes cats.


So, there you have it. Friskit and Whiskers are dead. Nicholson is not getting another cat. And no other Wizards are cat people. Sometimes stories have a happy ending, sometimes they don’t. All you can do is follow the facts.

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The Wizards Race Past Indy on Last Turn http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/the-wizards-race-past-indy-on-last-turn.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/the-wizards-race-past-indy-on-last-turn.html#comments Sun, 12 Feb 2017 17:05:37 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52961 John Wall, Indiana Pacers, Kevin Seraphin, Washington Wizards, Truth About it, Adam McGinnis

Throughout the John Wall era, the Wizards have rarely been showcased on TNT, ESPN, or ABC. That has been a sore spot for Washington fans.

Of course, the old adage “Respect is earned, not given” rings true, and your 2016-17 Washington Wizards are finally, and deservingly, gaining reverence: a national audience got to see this improved basketball team with booked home games against formidable foes in Cleveland (TNT) and Indiana (ESPN). While the odds are still long for the ‘Zards to win a championship, NBA pundits are now nominating them to take on LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. This was not happening even a week ago.

In this new discourse of raised expectations, the Wizards were challenged against Indiana on Friday evening at the Phone Booth. The Pacers entered the game having won seven out of their last eight games and were 14-5 since the the last time these two squads faced off in late December. Behind clutch play of Wall and Bradley Beal, along with dominant frontcourt performances from Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris, Washington defeated Indiana 112-107.

In the first half, neither team sustained complete control and little defense was played. The Pacers bench, led by ex-Wizard Kevin Serpahin, fueled a 14-0 run to help Indiana build a seven-point advantage. Washington responded, with Wall creating in transition, and at halftime the game was tied at 59.

The intensity picked up in the third quarter. Wall found Gortat on two gorgeous passes and he nailed an incredible step-back 3 that sent the home fans into a frenzy. Indiana’s second unit kept them afloat, as Paul George started heating up. With Otto Porter plagued by foul trouble, Jason Smith, Tomas Satoransky and Trey Burke contributed in significant ways. In successive sequences to close out the third quarter, Smith had a highlight dunk, Satoransky stole the ball and found a streaking Burke for the lay-up. Washington took a five-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Markieff Morris, Washington Wizards

This contest came down to crunch time—Washington excelled while Indiana wilted. Morris, who sat out last game versus the Nets, hit a money 3-ball and tipped out a missed free throw, winning his team another key possession. Morris finished with 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting (3-6 on 3s), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and plus-16 in plus/minus. Wall and Beal together poured in 17 fourth-quarter points, with John putting the game away from the free throw line (7-10 FTs).

In their post-game media interviews, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said the game was decided by Washington out-hustling them for loose balls and on the glass. Gortat had two outstanding late tip-ins, and he and Morris combined for 26 rebounds (10 offensive, as many as the entire Pacers team). Gortat labeled the Morris-Machine frontcourt as the “Phoenix Outlaws,” due to their previous time together with the Suns.

The Wizards now leads the Pacers 2-1 in their season series and have a chance to win it outright next Thursday in Indiana. Washington will host Oklahoma City on Monday night, a chance for payback from their disappointing overtime defeat to the Thunder last November.

Washington’s run of fantastic basketball continues to produce weird feelings among followers of this team. The natural reaction is to get hyped on the success but the nasty habit of waiting for bad things to happen is hard to shake. We all have contributed to the #SoWizards hashtag. However, the victories are becoming routine and the stakes will be raised, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. This team has a chance to be special.

Quotes.

John Wall:

“It was a big win against them, but we have them again next week so it’s going to be a big game to try and win the whole series against them. They’re a tough team, they’re a great team at home. We just have to keep playing well and defending.”

Markieff Morris:

“Felt good man. Had about three to four days off. Made some shots.

“At halftime, coach came in and said they were shooting 58 percent from the floor tonight and we had to clean that up—hold them, I think, to like 44 or 48 points in the second half. That’s better than the first half.”

Bradley Beal:

“We wanted to really come out and get back on track. We had a tough one in Brooklyn—a game we felt like we should not have gone into overtime but it did. We just wanted to come back home and make sure we got off to an even better start, get our streak back on. We got one down, but it is going to get tougher. We won this game, we can move on now…

“Our defense, it is the same thing: We were not being physical enough. I think we only had like four fouls or something at the half, and that is usually the total opposite of us. We are usually hacking teams so we did a better job of just coming out the second half being physical, making them uncomfortable, making them take some tougher shots.”

Coach Scott Brooks:

“I told our guys from the start of the season, that our job is to play hard and play for each other, and let everything work itself out. We didn’t have the good start that we wanted, but the thing I loved about the start is not one guy made an excuse.

“I think cities get behind teams that don’t make excuses and leave everything on the floor, and play for each other. That’s what’s happening as this season has progressed, you see that in our crowd. Our crowds are becoming more engaged and locked in, and are excited. Our players are feeling it. The last two games here have been great—other than we lost the last game. Our crowd is a big part of our success on our home floor.”

Paul George:

“We got stops and made them miss shots but couldn’t secure rebounds. They got second-chance baskets that . . . we weren’t tough enough. This has been an issue for us all season. Got to get grittier, we got to get nasty on these boards. We’re just not tough enough.”

Coach Nate McMillan: 

“They beat us to the ball 14 times and had 20 second-chance points. They’re winning the hustle game and you know you can’t lose that…

“They have a lot of talent on that team, a number of guys playing well. [Otto] Porter [Jr.] has been playing well, he got in foul trouble. Morris comes back tonight, has a solid game for them. Gortat does his usual thing, just solid screening and rebounding. You got Wall and Beal playing well. We know (Morris) is capable to score and he made some shots over the defense tonight.”

[Photos via Monumental Sports.]

Social Media.

Videos.

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The Pixel-And-Roll Show: Cleveland’s Fluke Win Brings Back Cavs Hate http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/the-pixel-and-roll-show-clevelands-fluke-win-brings-back-cavs-hate.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/the-pixel-and-roll-show-clevelands-fluke-win-brings-back-cavs-hate.html#comments Sun, 12 Feb 2017 16:13:23 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52909 Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards, Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA, Truth About It, Adam McGinnis, Podcast, Beal Girlfriend, TNT Sports, Podcast, The Pixel and Roll Show, Kamiah Adams

The Wizards suffered an excruciating loss to Cleveland on Monday night, on TNT, falling 140-135 in overtime to the defending NBA champions, after Washington’s nemesis LeBron James banked in a miraculous 3-point shot at the end of regulation. Legendary broadcaster Steve Buckhantz called the action-packed contest “one of the best regular season games [he’d] ever seen.” Buck’s observation was correct in that it was the definitive “moral victory” in modern Wizards lore. It took a fluke shot (and a few before it) in order for the Cavs to break Washington’s 17-game home winning streak. While Wiz followers were emotionally upset, there was solace in that their performance earned them credibility among national NBA pundits and fans.

TAI’s Rashad Mobley (@rashad20), who covered the game with this excellent recap, joined me on The Pixel-and-Roll Show to chop up all the craziness that went down.

Last week, John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsendand I analyzed how Washington has turned its season around, while discussing his superb piece on the contract situation of Otto Porter. Check out the lengthy podcast! 

Subscribe to one of the podcast feeds below. Thanks for your support! 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 11.39.57 AM

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Opening Statements 53: Wizards vs Pacers — Buckle Up, Again http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/opening-statements-53-wizards-vs-pacers-buckle-up-again.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/opening-statements-53-wizards-vs-pacers-buckle-up-again.html#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 21:14:51 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52938 Washington Wizards at Indiana Pacers - Nov. 10, 2012

As soon as you thought the Wizards were immune to Wizardry, they Wizard-ed. They went to overtime with the Brooklyn Nets — worst team in the league, losers now of 11 in a row, and the only NBA team still with single-digit wins — and the Wizards won! There are moral victories and there are immoral victories.

Have you ever taken a nap, and then woken up from that nap, and instead of feeling refreshed it feels like the morning after a night of heavy drinking? Except it’s just a nap on a Sunday afternoon, maybe after running errands — it’s the dreaded napover. And not to equate Monday night’s matchup with Cleveland with slumber, but it was a dream performance, and it could have gone either way. What it did was awaken the Wizards to their potential, and so a visit to Brooklyn on Wednesday became their napover.

You can have your trap game, which much of the internet seems to define as overlooking a presumed inferior opponent before facing a top-notch opponent. (Not necessarily after, but what’s the difference?)

The Wizards weren’t on national television. They were instead playing in a dead Brooklyn arena on YES Network. The Knicks are bad, and the Lakers are bad — but I almost guarantee that games on the home courts of those teams would not have led to a Wizards napover (or a trap). New York and Los Angeles are cities where parties happen. Brooklyn is little brother, still New Jersey in the minds of most, I suppose. The Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez Nets team happened back when the Dutch settled Brooklyn, I believe. Who could remember, who could forget.

But the Wizards won, maintaining a record of 10 games over .500 (70 games over .500 in Wizards Dog Years). And, as TAI’s Conor Dirks wrote, “On the road to the playoffs, these wins need winning, too.”

Watching the Comcast post-game show, I found Scott Brooks’ comments interesting. He wasn’t buying into that trap-game cliché. To paraphrase, Brooks told the media that it wasn’t that his team took the Nets lightly — the Wizards knew Brooklyn had lost 10 in a row, they knew they lost a close one in Charlotte the night before, they knew they were hungry. Brooks’ players were prepared, he insisted. No, it came down to execution, according to the coach, i.e., his players didn’t do their jobs.

And participation trophy-seekers used to do some hand-wringing when Randy Wittman spoke about #EffortMetrics and his players’ inability to calibrate. This is the same thing, and Brooks is right. And Wittman was often right. The difference being Brooks’ flexibility and nuanced approach to managing his locker room versus Wittman’s old-school stubbornness.

This brings us to tonight’s game against the Indiana Pacers — the first of two (final) meetings between these teams over the next week before the All-Star break (sandwiching Monday’s game versus the Thunder on TNT).

Hovering around .500 all season until breaking free after a home loss to Charles Oakley’s Knicks on Jan. 23, the Pacers have actually been on a roll since Dec. 30, 2016. Since then, the Warriors (3 losses) and the Wizards (5 losses) are tied for the league lead in wins with 16. Indiana is right there with 14 (7 losses), keeping pace with San Antonio and Utah.

You think the Wizards have been clutch? The Pacers are 9-1 in clutch-time games during the aforementioned span, while Washington is 8-5. Nate McMillan’s team is stifling opponents in these late-game situations, allowing a DefRtg of just 74.9 (113.1 OffRtg), while the Wizards are simply outscoring opponents (115.6 Ortg to 104.9 Drtg).

Two days before this magical Pacers timespan, they lost, 105-111, to the Wizards in D.C., dropping their record to 15-18, and putting the Wizards one game on the south side of .500. The Verizon Center actually showed signs of life that night — John Wall took over after Bradley Beal went out at half with a sprained ankle. In the other locker room, meanwhile, the Pacers were doing some soul-searching (as so aptly covered by TAI’s Adam Rubin).

Of course, this happened after the Wizards lost in Indiana 10 days prior in a shooting-your-own-foot heartbreaker. Brooks drew up a great play to get Beal a potential game-winning 3-pointer, and he missed — wide open.

Now the Pacers are 29-23, having won seven in a row before losing to Cleveland by 15 points in Indiana on Wednesday. (The Cavs responded to their narrow win over the Wizards with a near-blowout, you see.)

So what has changed for Indiana?

To answer, we turned to friends of the internet and Twitter machine. First, the Miller Time Podcast (@MillerTimePod):

1) Paul George has really picked up his game (he had a ‘morning of refreshment’ in London, detailed by USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt here).

2) Their schedule was full of cupcakes during that stretch.

And additional insight from 8 Points, 9 Seconds (@8pts9secs):

After all the injuries and lineup changes to start the season, the Indiana Pacers finally found one that worked. Taking a smaller, non-defensive shooting guard in Monta Ellis and replacing him with a bigger defender (Glenn Robinson III, then later C.J. Miles) helped Indiana to play better defense, which led to the offense being able to focus more and get in rhythm.

It also took time for the team to find stability. Jeff Teague, the new point guard, finally got going, Lavoy became reliable again, and team (Paul George in particular) got better about driving to the rim and finishing. The bench now needs to find stability when everyone is healthy again, so they are still a work in progress.

There is every reason to buckle up tonight — a nationally televised game on ESPN and two playoff teams currently separated by two games (WAS 3-seed, IND 6-seed). Yes, they’d meet if we knew that an asteroid would hit our planet in six weeks and the NBA said, ‘Let’s start the playoffs today, one last time!’

Also: Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, and Marcin Gortat still remain from the 2014 second round playoff series with the Pacers that Washington lost 4-2. On Indy’s side: just Paul George and Lavoy Allen. Oh, and Kevin Seraphin and Ian Mahinmi have switched places — a welcome development.

Let’s get Wizard.


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How the Wizards Burrowed Out of the Borough and Beat the Nets http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/how-the-wizards-burrowed-out-of-the-borough-and-beat-the-nets.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/how-the-wizards-burrowed-out-of-the-borough-and-beat-the-nets.html#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 02:24:54 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52916 [photo via instagram.com/washwizards]

[photo via instagram.com/washwizards]

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.


 

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OT Grows in Brooklyn http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/ot-grows-in-brooklyn.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/ot-grows-in-brooklyn.html#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 20:10:01 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52911 C4MkRVGVcAAoLd3

[photo via @WashWizards]

Fresh off an overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wizards (1-3 in overtime on the season prior to the game against the Nets) arrived in Brooklyn bent but emboldened by their hard-fought performance in one of the more incredible NBA games of the season. Hardly a science, momentum is often exalted as the carry-over factor between games, quarters, minutes, shots. And whether it was momentum or everyday execution, the Wizards beat forward in the name of normalcy, building a 10-point lead by halftime on 8-for-12 shooting from Bradley Beal and nine assists from John Wall. Ian Mahinmi even played!

But disappointment, atrophied from lack of use during Washington’s recent run, returned in the second half. Wall gobbled up the offense but faltered, shooting 3-for-13 and missing four contested layups as well as two other shots within the paint. As any eyeballed human that watches the Wizards would attest, Washington sank comfortably into a familiar refrain: long, clock-killing possessions that may in one’s mind seek to preserve a lead but in fact denigrate an offense that has shown itself to be effective this season when played to the hilt. Wall’s pace fell from 99.01 in the first half to 93.36 in the second. The team slowed with him.

There was no inspiring counter-story to explain how the Nets tied it up, or how they forced overtime. Brooklyn didn’t shoot particularly well. Former Wizards Trevor Booker played well (and well enough to make this writer miss him), but there were no revelatory performances by the NBA’s worst group.

Instead, the Wizards simply waned, standing in corners and waiting for plays to be over rather than seeking out a successful possession. Beal was too happy to take a backseat, and Wall was too happy to oblige. Porter and Gortat were largely forgotten, confined to diminished, zombified versions of their former roles. Porter’s shots all came from either the right elbow or the right side of the court behind the arc.

Overtime wasn’t assured, but it did not feel avoidable as the game wound down to its final moments. Washington needlessly scrapped when they could have controlled the game, devised intricate isolation attacks when they could have run a layup line to better effect, shoved possessions down the throat of fate and came up empty, as John Wall did on Washington’s last possession of regulation, moments after an insane sequence of tips and bats that almost sent the ball careening out of bounds.

Let’s turn to that extra period, which was always what this blog post deserved to be about. It was quite the five minutes of basketball action, with the Wizards winning out on 3-for-11 shooting against Brooklyn’s 4-for-11. How?

With the House of Guards crumbling (Beal was 1-for-6, Wall was 0-for-2), credit goes to Otto Porter for two of Washington’s three overtime buckets. That’s enough to garner him the accolade of overtime MVP if pressed for one, but cleaning up after his misfiring teammates (first a missed layup by Beal, and then an airballed layup by Wall) with second-chance points is too dirty of work for such a title.

Really, this was an ugly win against an opponent ripe for a beatdown even despite the absence of Wizards starter Markieff Morris (sore calf), while Wall and Beal worked their way to the line for the game-winning points—scored one by one like goals in a shootout rather than in fine basketball fashion.

Here’s the thing, though. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with winning in this way, as long as you win. It’s nice to watch a game wherein the team tries, and eventually establishes, a rhythm. Against Brooklyn, the opposite was true, as the drumbeat could be heard early but faded late into the kind of torturous, arrhythmic water leak from a faulty faucet that keeps good boys and good girls up at night. And yet, despite the torn tempo, Washington’s record improved. On the road to the playoffs, these wins need winning, too.

But undergirding another Washington victory is a troubling fact: the Wizards are running their starting lineup into the ground. With five players in the top 50 for minutes played (the entire starting lineup) and three in the top 20 (Wall, Gortat, and Porter), Washington risks long-term damage to get from A to B on any given night. Without a successful trade to address what the offseason supposedly addressed (bench depth), the Wizards will have to trade fatigue for glory on a nightly basis. Once again, what Washington had was enough.

And so I leave you with this: Trevor Booker attempting to serve a volleyball to the basketball gods for an overtime-avoiding spike. As my colleague Kyle Weidie intimated on Twitter, there are worse ways to go out.

 

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What to Expect from Ian Mahinmi: Pacers Have High Praise for Former Teammate http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/what-to-expect-from-mahinmi-pacers-have-high-praise-for-former-teammate.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/what-to-expect-from-mahinmi-pacers-have-high-praise-for-former-teammate.html#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 13:29:33 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52579

Mahinmi is dressed like he should be smoking a pipe tonight. #WizPacers pic.twitter.com/IenayhMVlL

— Ledell's Place (@LedellsPlace) December 29, 2016

The regular season is more than 60 percent over and about the only thing Wizards fans have learned about Ian Mahinmi is that he prefers turtlenecks with his sport jackets.  

Washington’s big free agent acquisition has played a grand total of 14 minutes in one game after undergoing surgery in mid-October for a partially torn meniscus in his left knee that he injured in a preseason game, and then undergoing platelet-rich plasma treatment on both knees in December.

Nevertheless, barring another Alan Anderson or Robert Pack situation (knock on wood), Mahinmi is expected to return before the All-Star break (perhaps as soon as tonight in Brooklyn), and could eventually play significant minutes for this surging Washington Wizards team.

So, what can we expect from the $64-million man when he finally hits the court? I spoke to his former Indiana Pacers teammates back in mid-January to find out what Mahinmi did for them, what he can do for Washington, and what they thought about all that free agent money.

First, some context. As John Schuhmann noted on NBA.com, the Pacers had the two best defensive units in the NBA last season, and Mahinmi was the center in both lineups. Not surprisingly, Mahinmi’s former teammates raved about his defensive leadership.

Myles Turner, the second-year starter whose emergence in last year’s playoffs made Mahinmi expendable, spoke admiringly of Mahinmi’s defensive prowess and his professionalism:

“Ian is very great on the defensive end of the floor. He’s very vocal and communicates the back line defense very well and that’s kind of one thing I took from him. He’s a great pick-and-roll defender and then offensively he doesn’t do anything he’s not capable of doing. He kind of lets the game come to him. So, his poise and his composure is something I took from him.”

mahinmi myles

Pacers backup big man Lavoy Allen echoed Turner’s praise for Mahinmi’s pick-and-roll defense when asked about Mahinmi’s biggest contributions:

“Biggest thing is defensively, just protecting the rim. He was really good in the pick-and-roll defense. I’d say that’s the biggest thing. He ran the floor hard, rebounded the ball, he did a lot of things for us.”

Allen said the Pacers, who have struggled with rebounding and defense this season, could use Ian’s help:

“Yeah, it would help to have another big out there to defend. Yeah, I would say we really do miss what he brought to the team.”

Monta Ellis also felt that the Pacers were a more coherent defensive unit last season with Mahinmi in the middle:

“I would say we were tied together as a team as a unit. We knew that if we pressure up he had our back and we had to have his back and keep him out of foul trouble, stay in front of our man at times. I think last year it was more connected, more dialed in.”

Ellis described Ian as a Swiss Army knife of sorts: “Whatever [Washington coach’s] ask him to do he can do it — rebounding, block shots, run the floor, set screens, and roll to the basket and finish.”

Rakeem Christmas played with Mahinmi for one season and describes exactly the type of player the Wizards could use:

“He’s athletic, he blocks shots. He’s one of those players out there doing the little things, setting screens, rolling, stuff like that. When he comes back he’s going to be one hell of a player.”

It’s All About The Benjamins.

Everyone knew player salaries would jump dramatically when free agency opened on July 1, 2016, but it was still strange to live in a world where Timofey Mozgov set the market for journeyman centers at four years and $64 million. After Washington missed on a few higher profile free agents, the front office turned its eyes to Mahinmi and locked him up with Mozgov money. What did his Pacers teammates think of Mahinmi’s good fortune?

Lavoy, were you surprised by Mahinmi’s pay day?  

“I wasn’t surprised at all once I saw what everyone else was getting. He deserves it. He had a pretty good season last year so he deserved everything he got.”

 Did you reach out to congratulate him after he got the contract?

“I’m pretty sure he had a lot of text messages and calls when it happened, so I secretly wished him good luck. I was happy for him.”

 Wait, what? You secretly wished him good luck?

“In my mind I did it. I didn’t text him. Matter of fact, it’s still in my drafts, I just got to send it.”

 No rush, Lavoy. At least Rakeem Christmas hit send.

I definitely texted him and told him congratulations and I’ll see you soon. He definitely was [excited]. Everyone was happy for him.”

 Myles Turner shared the good cheer for his teammate:  

I was real happy for him. Just to come from where he came from to make all that money now, I was rooting for him. I know his family as well, so I’m glad he’s in that position to help the one’s that are close to him.”

 Does it give you any extra motivation to see a guy you played with being rewarded like that?

It does, but that’s not something I’m thinking about right now. I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m just going to keep my nose to the grindstone as a player right now.”

As a 12-year veteran, Monta Ellis knows the NBA is a business and he knew Mahinmi might not be back with the Pacers after last season ended.

You can’t predict that. We just had to wait and see and he got a better offer here and he had to do what was best for his family… He went and got his money.”

 Hopefully, Washington will soon find out what it got for all that cash.


 

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Wizards In Foul Mood After Home Loss But Gain Valuable Lessons http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/wizards-in-foul-mood-after-home-loss-but-gain-valuable-lessons.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/wizards-in-foul-mood-after-home-loss-but-gain-valuable-lessons.html#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 22:12:14 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52876

2nite was a measuring stick for the @WashWizards against @cavs. I'm so proud of my young fellas @JohnWall @RealDealBeal23 #wizcavs #Wizards

— Drew Gooden III (@DrewGooden) February 7, 2017

The downside to winning 17 straight home games, seven straight games overall, and being in everyone’s top 10 in Power Rankings, is the rise of expectations.  The Washington Wizards can no longer be satisfied hovering around the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, pushing the top teams to the brink of a loss or hovering around the .500 line. The Wizards, much like their leader John Wall, want respect, nationally-televised games, and to be considered one of the best teams in the East, and the NBA overall.

After their 140-135 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wizards did not look like a team basking in the glow of a proverbial moral victory. They looked angry, agitated, and ready to play again.

As rookie Danuel House put his backpack on to leave the arena, fellow rookie Daniel Ochefu told him to have a good night, and House responded, “I won’t, we lost.”

Wall answered all postgame questions with a stoic face but made it his business to say that Wizards have the respect of the Cavs and that he cannot wait to see them again.

Bradley Beal succinctly said, “Everyone is pissed … no one is in a good mood.”

In the first quarter of Monday night’s game, the Wizards had no reason to be moody or pissed — in fact they were quite the opposite. Otto Porter was 3-for-3 from the field including 2-for-2 from the 3-point line, which was more than enough to offset the tough time he had guarding LeBron and Kevin Love (via pick-and-roll switches). Beal torched Shumpert for 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, and Wall, despite turning the ball over three times and shooting just 2-for-7, kept constant pressure on the Cavs and dished out four assists. Cleveland opened the quarter with a dunk by LeBron and a 3-pointer by Love, but the Wizards matched them shot for shot, stayed close, and finished the last 3:13 of the first period on a 7-1 run and led 32-26.

For the first six minutes of the second quarter, the bench — along with special cameos from Porter, Beal and Morris (whose aggressiveness was a bit limited thanks to the two fouls he committed in the game’s first four minutes) — held its own. They were going against LeBron and four members of his bench, and they managed to maintain the lead. Jason Smith blocked a Kay Felder drive, which led to a Porter 3-pointer. And on the very next possession, Smith dug deep in his back of tricks and hit a fade away off the dribble. Oubre went scoreless in quarter, but he was active with two steals (including one on LeBron James). Trey Burke and Tomas Satoransky seemed overwhelmed by the moment, but it didn’t cost the Wizards the lead or any momentum. The score at halftime was 57-54 in Washington’s favor, but there were tell-tale signs that the Wizards could be in trouble.

Love was scoring at will, in and out of the paint; he and Tristan Thompson were able to do what they wanted in the post and on the boards with little to no resistance from Morris or Marcin Gortat; and LeBron found that right combination of scoring (17 points) and getting others involved (10 assists) by halftime.

Beal scored eight of the Wizards’ 11 points to begin the third quarter as they extended their lead to nine points — their largest of the game. But as Washington’s shooting percentage began to dip from 54 to 47 percent, the smaller tell-tale signs became much more glaring. Love had 15 points (nine from the 3-point line) and six rebounds in the third quarter alone; Thompson had six points and three of his four rebounds were on the offensive end, which extended Cavaliers’ possessions; and LeBron continued to be the architect behind it all with seven points and five assists in the period. Wall began to heat up with seven points in the quarter, and Otto Porter was steady with six points, but the momentum was clearly shifting toward Cleveland, and their 86-82 lead reflected that. Then the fourth quarter came.

The TNT crew agreed that the Cavs/Wizards matchup was the game of the year, and the fourth quarter produced most of the intense and dramatic moments. LeBron and Morris had a physical battle in the post; then Oubre stole the ball from LeBron was knocked down, and he ended up scoring thanks to a pinpoint pass from Satoransky. The game was tied at 87, then 90, and then Cavs started to slightly pull away thanks to Kyle Korver and Love. They led 101-96 with 6:15 left in the game, and then the back-and-forth truly began.

Wall found Gortat for an easy layup and then scored on a pullup jumper to give the Wizards a one point lead, then LeBron nailed a 3. Wall followed with a driving layup, then LeBron hit yet another 3. The Wizards hit consecutive 3s on consecutive possessions to take a three-point lead, and then LeBron hit his third 3-pointer in a two-minute span to tie the game at 110. James scored or assisted on 16 of the Cavaliers’ final 19 points, and the Wizards — whether it was a Beal 3-pointer, a Wall jumper or layup, or a Porter 3-pointer, managed to match them, shot for shot.

After LeBron drove, traveled (it wasn’t called) and missed a wide-open layup, Korver intentionally fouled Wall, who calmly went to the free throw line and nailed both attempts to give the Wizards a 120-117 lead with 3.4 seconds left in regulation. The Cavs were out of timeouts, which meant Kevin Love, who took the ball out of bounds, would have to throw the ball the full length of the court for a potential game-tying basket.  Maybe Markieff Morris should have been closer to Love to make the pass more difficult, and maybe one of the Wizards should have been fronting LeBron to make sure he could not get off a shot, or maybe Beal should have intentionally fouled him to send him to the line for two free throws instead of letting LeBron get off a 3-point attempt. But none of that happened, which allowed James — who in year’s past has foiled the Wizards via a crab dribble — got Washington again after a Wes Unseld-like pass from Love.

Heading into overtime, both Scott Brooks and Beal said after the game that their spirits were high and they were not at all disheartened by LeBron’s amazing shot. A little under two minutes into the overtime period, that’s exactly what it looked like. LeBron fouled out which led to emphatic cheers by Porter, Beal, and the entire Verizon crowd, and shortly thereafter the Wizards led by five points after an Oubre 3-pointer. Then Kyrie, who had shot just 5-for-18 with 12 points up until overtime, began to remind the Wizards that the Cavs had more than one closer.

It wasn’t just that Irving scored 11 points in the OT period to put the game away, it was the way he did it.  When the Wizards led 133-131, Irving went down the court, yo-yoed the ball with a series of between-the-legs and crossover dribbles, faked a 3-pointer, and hit a tough baseline jumper over Beal. The next time down the court, Richard Jefferson ran over to set a pick for Irving, and he waved it away as if to tell Jefferson and the Verizon Center fans that he could take Beal solo. Irving used the same dribbles to throw Beal off, but this time he pulled up, nailed a 3-pointer to give the Cavs the lead for good, and he strutted back down the court where James greeted him a chest bump. Beal had a chance to tie the game with 4.9 seconds left, but his shot fell short and the Cavs went on to win.

It was a real victory for the Cavs and a dreaded moral victory for the Wizards. Tyronn Lue and Kevin Love commented on how much confidence the Wizards were playing with, and Lue (both in his pre- and post-game comments) specifically singled out Scott Brooks’ and how good of a job he had done coaching the team. The TNT crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal could not stop gushing over the Wizards’ improved play. Barkley said (for the second time in two weeks) that Wall should be considered for MVP. Even the intensity with which the Cavaliers played, cheered, and strutted was enough to show the Wizards that they had gained their respect.

But the reality is that the Wizards lost the game. Kelly Oubre said it was the basketball gods which allowed LeBron to hit that shot to extend the game into overtime, but it wasn’t quite that simplistic. The Wizards could not grab timely rebounds, which lead 18 second chance points for the Cavs. John Wall had 22 points and 12 assists, but he also had six turnovers, shot just 6-for-18, and took some hero ball attempts in the fourth quarter, as did Bradley Beal. The Cavs, being the world champions that they are, made the Wizards pay.

The Wizards are on to Brooklyn as Bill Belichick would say, and both Beal and Coach Brooks hinted that they look forward to taking their frustrations out on the Nets. Their W-L record after this Cavs game will truly demonstrate whether the lessons — both basketball-wise and emotionally — from Monday night will carry over to Wednesday night and for the remainder of the season. But for one night, a Monday night after the Super Bowl no less, the Wizards and Cavs gave the fans, the writers, and even each other, an instant classic which left everyone wanting much more.

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Moral Victories Mean Something, Sometimes http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/moral-victories-mean-something-sometimes.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/moral-victories-mean-something-sometimes.html#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 06:26:32 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52875 The biggest regular season game of John Wall’s NBA career lived up to the hype, several times over. The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled out a 140-135 overtime win in the Verizon Center that snapped the Wizards’ 17-game home win streak. At times it seemed like the Cavs had the win locked up, and at times it seemed like the Wizards had sealed the deal. Ultimately, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving did what they do, and it was too much for the resilient Wizards.

But forget all that. The loss sucks, and the snapping of the win streak sucks, and LeBron and Kyrie getting yet another win over John Wall and Bradley Beal sucks, and the Cavaliers beating the Wizards yet again sucks worst of all. But none of that really matters.

Moral victories are generally bullshit. They’re almost always bullshit. This was a legitimate moral victory, and the Wizards have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of after this one.

Here’s what it took for Cleveland to beat Washington on this night:

  • A career-high 17 assists by LeBron.
  • A season-high 22 points by Tristan Thompson.
  • More than 41 minutes from LeBron (42:04), Irving (44:08), Kevin Love (41:43), and Thompson (41:21)
  • 140 points. One-hundred-and-forty.
  • Six 3-pointers apiece from LeBron and Love (on 8 and 10 shots, respectively), and four more from Kyle Korver. And that includes a 4-for-4 performance from deep by LeBron in the fourth quarter.
  • To top it all off, maybe the best shot this league has seen all season.

It’s not every day, or even every season, that we see something so miraculous that it causes the NBA social media person to turn into a speechless fanboy or fangirl.

#GameOfTheYear was very briefly trending on Twitter after the finale.

A few other significant nuggets about this game:

Wall had the following to say about how he and the rest of the team are looking at this game:

“We can’t let this one fall. This is a game we should’ve won, give a lot of credit to him — LeBron made a heck of a shot that he will probably make one out of a million times. Kyrie came and threw up a big shot to go up three, and we had an opportunity to go into double overtime. So we fought, we didn’t ever quit, and we have to keep this momentum going even though we lost a tough game.”

Here’s what Scott Brooks had to say about it:

“It was an instant classic — a great basketball game by two really good teams. A lot of great plays throughout the 53 minutes of basketball, on both ends … James hit an amazing shot, a fallaway 3 off the board, and I didn’t think I heard him call it.”

And later, Brooks again:

“When you have a highly competitive game, you want to keep your composure. Nobody plays well if they don’t have their focus in the right place, and we did. We had some mistakes that we made, but this is a good team. The mistakes that we made were split-second mistakes and they nail a 3 on you. We have to get a little better, I do not know how much better we can get from those mistakes, but like I said, they have one of the best players to ever play: that passing tonight was vintage LeBron James. He had 17 assists and they were all beeline direct in the shooting pocket. All they have to do is shoot the ball, which is the easy part of the play. He makes the game easy and this why he is who he is.”

That’s all fine and good, but there’s so much more to it than “this was a really good game.” (And I cannot stress this enough. This was a really good game.)

The place was packed. It was the second official sellout of the season for a Wizards home game, with the first being the first time the Cavaliers came to town. And while that sounds like the same old D.C. fanbase, this time was different. The fans were verifiably pro-Wizards, which, regrettably, isn’t something you can always say about Wizards home games.

Make no mistake, there were plenty of Cavs fans in attendance. But the mood of the crowd when LeBron hit that shot was about 40 percent utter despair, 30 percent unbridled joy, and 30 percent disbelief at one of the most incredible moments this fanbase has witnessed since Paul Pierce called game. And note just before that shot, the overwhelming MVP chants for Wall, who, by his outrageous standard of late, had just an OK game.

The Wizards played their asses off. They damn near beat the defending champions who were not only hyped up by the prospect of ending the Wizards’ streak, but they were fending off “trash” rumors that they might trade Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony.

Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe not. But on a night when the league-wide speculation (again) is that Love could be traded, the embattled big man put together perhaps his best individual game since he came to Cleveland, with 39 points on 11-for-17 shooting, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Maybe he had additional motivation?

The Cavs had generally positive things to say about the Wizards after the game.

Here’s coach Tyronn Lue:

“They’re a great team. They’re very well coached, and Coach Brooks does a great job of making sure guys are in the right spots. They really push the basketball, which really puts you at a disadvantage because of the shooting they have. Bradley Beal and now Porter, who’s leading the league in 3-point shooting, put you in some tough situations, so when they’re pushing the basketball, if you turn the ball over and miss shots and don’t get back, they put you in some tough positions.”

Here’s Love:

“They’re very good, and they’re getting better. When a team has confidence, and when you have confidence in this league, it’s hard to stop that. Unfortunately, momentum can change on a dime, and I think you’ve seen that with them. They started out slow, and really since maybe early, mid-December, they’ve been a great team.”

LeBron didn’t offer much of substance on that topic, but he mentioned the team has “gotten better every year.”

That claim could be true, or it could be simply a nice thing for a victor to say about a respected competitor. Maybe it’s just something where you have to step back — after all, the Wizards were a very mediocre 41-41 team last year — to see the whole picture, and this group really has been improving with each passing year.

But the Wizards keep playing good basketball. They show up every night instead of taking games off against teams they should handle easily. They win at home. They bury teams they say they’ll bury. They play well on the big stage, even when they go out of their way to make the stage as big as possible.

For the first time in a really long time, the Wizards might actually be a legitimate threat in the playoffs, and not just a threat in the way that a team hopes to get a chance to lose to LeBron’s team in the conference finals.

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As the Pelicans Found Out, There’s John Wall Then There’s Everybody Else http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/as-the-pelicans-found-out-theres-john-wall-then-theres-everybody-else.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/as-the-pelicans-found-out-theres-john-wall-then-theres-everybody-else.html#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2017 16:32:35 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52856

Anthony Davis tried to chase down John Wall. He failed. #WizPelicans pic.twitter.com/xLdUlIlGG0

— CSN Wizards (@CSNWizards) February 5, 2017

There has been a debate all season about who is the best point guard in the Eastern conference.

Kyrie Irving is always in the conversation because of his handles, iso scoring ability and championship pedigree. Kyle Lowry has bullied his way onto the scene by dramatically improving his shooting percentages.

Isaiah Thomas gets mentioned for his otherworldly fourth quarter scoring numbers, and Kemba Walker even garnered a few votes earlier in the season when Charlotte was riding high.

With all due respect to those great players, there is nothing to debate. Like Larry Bird walking into the locker room before the 1988 Three-Point contest, it’s John Wall and the rest are playing for second place.

I submit as Exhibit A – actually, it’s Exhibit Z because Wall has been doing this stuff all year – the last 5:50 of the New Orleans Pelicans game.

boxscore

It all started when Tyreke Evans hit a 3-pointer to give the Pelicans a 91-90 lead. Scott Brooks called a timeout. Then John Wall casually hit Markieff Morris for an alley-oop.

Then Wall caused Tyreke Evans to miss a layup and raced down the court to hit a 20 foot jumper.

Then Wall harassed Jrue Holiday into a missed layup and hit Markieff Morris in the corner, resulting in two free throws.

Then Wall stripped Holiday under the basket and beat three Pelicans defenders down court for a layup. Bear in mind that Wall started the fast break at his own 3-point line while all three Pelicans defenders were already beyond half-court on their side of the floor.

Wall wasn’t done. With 1:22 left and Washington leading 100-91, Wall was isolated with Anthony Davis on the left wing. He toyed with Davis then put up a step-back rainbow jumper that touched nothing but nylon and sent Steve Buckhantz to his happy place. But wait, there’s more. On the ensuing possession, Wall poked the ball away from Jrue Holiday, dove on it and called a timeout, all of which made Buckhantz even happier.

Wall was so pumped up after his steal, he almost knocked Scott Brooks out cold with a celebratory punch.

When the smoke cleared, Washington ended the game on a 15-0 run. Aside from Markieff’s two free throws (which came off a pass from Wall), Wall scored or assisted every basket during the decisive run. And he also played lock down defense.

But it’s not just that he did all those things. It’s that you knew he was going to do them. That’s the mark of a great player — when his greatness becomes commonplace. Not since the days of Gilbert Arenas buzzer beaters have we had such a proficient closer in DC.

Wall’s post-game explanation for his offensive and defensive outburst was simple: “It was just time to be aggressive.”

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry sounded more than frustrated by his team’s inability to keep Wall out of transition.

“I said that 100 times. We’ve gone over it a 100 times. We’ve been here three days and everyday we’ve said that. At practice we must’ve said it 20 times. We cannot turn the ball over against John Wall. He’s a one-man fast break. We did at the start of the game, we did it at the end. That’s the result. That’s what you get.”

The verdict is in. The debate is over. It’s John Wall and then everybody else.

Next Up, Lebron.

While Washington was beating New Orleans, the Cleveland Cavaliers were taking care of business against the lowly Knicks on the first stop of their current four-game road trip. After the game, LeBron James spoke with Lisa Salters and his next opponent – the Wizards – was on his mind.

James knew that Washington has an impressive home winning streak, he just didn’t know how impressive.

Wall also talked about the upcoming Wizards-Cavs game during his on-court interview with Chris Miller. Wall called Monday’s match-up the biggest regular season game of his career and declared, “It’s on.” The game will be televised nationally on TNT.


 

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Who Blocked It Better? Bradley Beal vs. Gilbert Arenas http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/who-blocked-it-better-bradley-beal-vs-gilbert-arenas.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/who-blocked-it-better-bradley-beal-vs-gilbert-arenas.html#comments Sat, 04 Feb 2017 17:17:12 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52846 beal block v2

Late in the fourth quarter of Washington’s 116-108 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Bradley Beal executed a brilliant chase down block against D’Angelo Russell. Washington was clinging to a five-point lead at the time and the Lakers were threatening to put an end to Washington’s 15-game home winning streak.

D’Angelo raced down the court with Otto Porter in front of him and attempted a soft finger-roll. Beal, who was trailing the play, measured his steps, skied toward the rim, and emphatically slammed the ball off the backboard.

As Beal completed the improbable play, I was immediately reminded of another block by another Wizards guard that happened at the exact same spot at the exact same basket almost twelve years ago.

On May 7, 2005, Washington held a 3-2 lead over the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Wizards returned to Washington with a chance to close out the series after Gilbert Arenas hit his iconic buzzer-beater to save the Wizards from a historic collapse in Game 5.

The Bulls controlled the action for most of Game 6, leading by as many as 10 points, and they held a four-point advantage with under three minutes left in the game.

That’s when Kirk Hinrich picked Larry Hughes’ pocket in the backcourt and headed straight to the rim for an easy layup to put the Bulls up six points.

Gilbert Arenas had other ideas.

Hinrich, like Russell, chose to go straight at the rim and lay it up without using the glass. This gave Gilbert enough time to recover and attack the ball before it started its descent. Arenas batted the ball off the glass and landed on Hinrich. Hughes got the rebound and scored on the other end, sparking a 7-0 run to end the game—and the series.

Both defensive plays were incredibly athletic and came at crucial times late in the fourth quarter. Beal’s block may have been more emphatic but Gilbert’s takes the prize based on the importance of the game and the effect the play had on the Wizards’ win probability.

To this day, Gilbert’s play stands as the greatest block I have ever witnessed in person. As long as we are reminiscing about that fateful Game 6, here is the incredible ending where Hinrich throws the inbounds off Chris Duhon’s back and Jared Jeffries races for what turns out to be the game-winning dunk.

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John Wall Invites The Lakers To His Super Sweet 16 Party http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/john-wall-invites-the-lakers-to-his-super-sweet-16-party.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/john-wall-invites-the-lakers-to-his-super-sweet-16-party.html#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 22:39:20 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52836

This. pic.twitter.com/dp4qgeV7Jm

— Danny (@recordsANDradio) February 3, 2017

To be honest, Wizards home games have been a little boring lately. For the first three quarters of their game against Los Angeles, it seemed like Washington was on its way to another run-of-the-mill home victory. Bradley Beal was on fire, scoring 19 first-half points on 5-of-6 3-pointers. The Wizards led comfortably, 58-44, at the break.

Ironically, right in the middle of Beal’s 3-point shooting barrage (he hit his first five), the field for the 2017 Three-Point Contest was revealed. Neither Beal nor Otto Porter, who leads the league in 3-point shooting percentage, were included. However, there was one player at the Verizon Center who made the cut: former Wizard Nick Young. Young, who said a fan told him during the game that he was selected, did nothing to justify his surprise pick. He shot 1-for-8 from downtown and Lou Williams joked after the game that the NBA should rescind his invitation.

Back to the game. When Washington took a 90-79 lead into the fourth quarter, their 16th straight home win seemed like a foregone conclusion.

That’s when the bench decided to add some excitement to the proceedings. The first two minutes of the fourth quarter were a stark reminder that this team’s success is heavily dependent on the continued good health of its starting five.

There is no sugarcoating it: Every player on the floor to start the fourth was bad. Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre, Markieff Morris and Jason Smith could not create a shot or even hold onto the ball.

“That was not a good moment for us tonight,” Brooks said about the bench’s fourth quarter collapse. “That was a bad stretch, they got physical and we just played scattered, and we can’t do that. We didn’t let the offense try to score. Usually we have Markieff that stabilizes things, and he had a tough game.”

Los Angeles cut the deficit to four, 91-87, after a Satoransky turnover led to an emphatic Larry Nance, Jr. fast-break alley-oop dunk. The Lakers fans, who had been relatively quiet for most of the night, were getting rowdy and Scott Brooks had seen enough. He called timeout with 9:57 remaining and relieved Burke and Satoransky of their backup duties.

Here’s the strange thing though—at least for long-suffering Wizards fans who are conditioned to expect the worst. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a Lakers fan, texted me, “Are you nervous?” My honest answer, “No.” Los Angeles had gained all the momentum and sucked the energy out of the arena, yet the outcome still seemed firmly in Washington’s control.

The sky-high confidence that Wizards players have talked about for the past week has trickled down to the fans. I guess a 15-game home winning streak can turn even the most pessimistic fans into believers.

But there was one main reason for my optimism above all others: he goes by the name John Wall.

I still don’t think people outside of D.C. realize how well John is playing. He is not just an All-Star. He’s the second best player in the Eastern conference. He can impose his will against inferior teams and single-handedly change the trajectory of a game, like Superman stopping a speeding train.

And that’s what he did to the Lakers. It’s not just that he scored 16 points in the final quarter. It’s how he scored. After Los Angeles tied the game at 91-91, Wall hit two long-range 3-pointers and bullied his way to the rim for a layup—all within a 61-second stretch.

When Los Angeles cut the lead to three with under a minute and a half remaining, Wall stole the ball and hit a mid-range jumper. When the Lakers crept back again, Wall hit another mid-range jumper.

Reminder: John Wall is not supposed to be an outside shooter. That’s supposed to be his Achilles’ heel. For years, people have said, “Man, if Wall could ever learn to shoot, he’d be unstoppable.” Well, guess what? He’s learned. And he’s unstoppable.

John Wall has finally fulfilled his basketball destiny and it is spectacular to watch. Well, unless you are a Lakers fan. And, per usual, there were plenty of them in the Verizon Center and they made their voices heard during Los Angeles’ fourth quarter comeback.

The Wizards players certainly noticed. But John Wall was having none of it. He said after the game that hearing the Lakers fans “kind of made me mad.”

And you don’t want to see Wall when he’s mad.

Wall paraded down the court after each made basket, proclaiming to all in attendance: “This is my city!”

Washington held off the Lakers run for a 116-108 win as he hit four free throws in the final 22 seconds amid chants of “MVP!”

It’s a Block Party. Who’s Invited?

In all this talk about John Wall, we’ve glossed over perhaps the best sequence of the game, which featured Bradley Beal and then—five seconds later—Marcin Gortat making game-changing defensive plays.

We begin with Beal. With 4:48 remaining in the game and Washington hanging on to a five-point lead, amateur film maker D’Angelo Russell raced down court for a fast break layup with only Otto Porter between him and the basket. What Russell did not know is that Beal was trailing the play and measuring his steps for a chase-down block.

Russell avoided Otto’s outstretched hand and put up a soft finger roll at the rim. Beal rose up and spiked the ball off the backboard like he was Karch Kiraly. The ball flew all the way beyond the 3-point line before Luol Deng grabbed it. Deng passed to Clarkson and Clarkson passed it right back to Deng as he was running full speed toward the rim with only Gortat in his way. The Machine slid to his right and fell to the ground as Deng barreled into him. Offensive foul. Wizards ball.

The Nick Young Show.

Nick Young is made for L.A. His lovable goofball persona wore thin in Washington because he was surrounded by a bunch of knuckleheads and the combination did not yield positive results. However, in la-la land, he’s found a receptive audience for his over-the-top antics. He even got himself a fancy fiancé for a bit.

But no matter how Hollywood he gets, Washington will always be Young’s NBA hometown. The city that knew him way back when and remembers all his embarrassing high school stories.

Maybe that’s why Young was not in the mood to reminisce with D.C. media during morning shoot-around before the Wizards game. Young took off running when reporters tried to interview the local boy who made it big.

Nick was a little more receptive after the game when I broached the subject of his hometown fans. Young declared, “They love me, man,” and claimed he saw a few jerseys with his name on them in the stands.

As much as the D.C. fans may love him, Young was not ready to discuss a return to Washington when his contract expired. “Aw, man … umm…,” Young said, before sheepishly turning around to see if any Lakers media or PR were listening (they were). “I’m not even talking about that tonight.”

Then, for the second time that day, he walked away from the questioning media, this time offering an upbeat, “Thank you all, D.C.” on his way out.

3-Point Contest Snub.

As mentioned above, the most accurate 3-point shooter in the league (Otto), as well as a past finalist (Beal), were not invited to the competition. Instead, Nick Young will be there. Young proclaimed himself the early favorite and enlisted Jordan Clarkson as his “rack man” to feed him balls in practice.

 Late Night Wizard Talk With The TNT Crew.

The national media recognition keeps on coming for the Wizards. After being placed in the top-5 in all three power rankings from NBA.com, CBS, and ESPN’s Marc Stein, Inside the NBA host Ernie Johnson posed the following question to the panel on last night’s show: Are the Wizards for real?

The answer was a resounding “Yes,” with both Charles Barkley and Shaq declaring Washington the second best team in the Eastern conference. Kenny Smith was not ready to go that far, opting instead for the Raptors, but the message was clear: the Wizards are a true contender in the East.

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Which Came First: The (Free) Chicken or the Home Court Advantage? http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/which-came-first-the-free-chicken-or-the-home-court-advantage.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/which-came-first-the-free-chicken-or-the-home-court-advantage.html#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 19:38:18 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52828 Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 2.34.33 PM

photo via @paulcoro

Just about everybody who, in the past few seasons, has been to a Wizards game at the Verizon Center, seen a Wizards home game on television, or even read much about the Wizards is aware that there is often little-to-no home advantage to be had for the home team in Washington. The big exception to this, of course, is during the fourth quarter when an opposing player is at the free-throw line and free chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A are on the line.

Plenty of other franchises from every sport have attendance problems and fanbase problems(1), and the reasons vary from organization to organization and city to city. Maybe that city isn’t a (insert sport) city, like how people always claim Los Angeles isn’t a football city. Or maybe the stadium is difficult to get to, like FedEx Field is for Redskins fans. Or maybe the team is just terrible or boring or a combination of the two, like the Cleveland Browns are.

The Wizards are a bit tougher to nail down.

D.C. isn’t a basketball haven like Los Angeles or Oakland or New York, but it’s also not fair to say it’s not a basketball city—both the District and its surrounding sub-cities have a long and fairly rich history of basketball excellence. The stadium could not be much easier to get to for people who live in or around the city, as the Verizon Center is located several hundred feet from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop, which serves the Red, Green, and Yellow Lines, and it’s just a few blocks from the Metro Center stop, which serves the Red, Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines. Everybody who has access to the Metro is within one train ride and a short walk of Wizards games, and parking isn’t impossible for those who wish to drive.

The final issue is the biggest culprit when it comes to the Wiz: The last time the franchise won at least 50 games or at least 60 percent of its games was the 1978-79 season, and its collective record over the past 10 full seasons is just 332-472 (.413). Even when the team has been respectable and made the postseason, early exits have typically followed. That ’78-79 season was also the last time the Wizards/Bullets made it past the second round of the playoffs; in the 37 full seasons that have since passed, Washington has managed four second-round exits, 10 first-round exits, and 23 seasons that ended with the regular season.

The counterpoint to that: The Wizards are kinda good these days. While last season was a disaster that stunted the team’s growth and led to a coaching change and plenty of roster turnover, it still featured a 41-41 record, which is usually good enough for the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference. Over the two previous seasons, Washington went 90-74, the team’s best two-season record since, of course, the 1977-79 stretch.

All that is to say three things. First, Washington has been a dreadful basketball franchise for more than 35 years. Second, this group of Wizarding fellows has been the most successful bunch the city has seen in more than 35 years and local fans should respect that by showing up and supporting a very exciting basketball team. Third, every time this franchise appears to be on the upswing, a swift kick to the groin typically ensues, so fans are understandably weary.

That brings us to where we find ourselves today. The Wizards, after dispatching the lowly Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night, have won 16 home games in a row and boast a remarkable 29-20 record. If the season ended today, the team would have its sixth-best season ever by winning percentage (.592) and its best by more than 30 points in the Wizards era.

In theory, a home winning streak of that magnitude, coupled with the team’s general winnings ways of late, would get the people out of their houses and into the stands, but that’s only kind of true. I tracked the official announced attendance of each Wizards home game during the streak, as well as the attendance of the last home game the Wizards lost, which also the team’s first home game in December, and found some interesting little nuggets.

First, the results:

  • Tuesday, 12/6, Magic: 12,116; 60% *Last time Wizards lost at home
  • Thursday, 12/8, Nuggets: 12,645; 63%
  • Saturday, 12/10, Bucks: 14,816; 73%
  • Wednesday, 12/14, Hornets: 13,447; 67%
  • Friday, 12/16, Pistons: 15,573; 77%
  • Sunday, 12/18, Clippers: 17,380; 86% *Afternoon game
  • Monday, 12/26, Bucks: 15,773; 78%
  • Wednesday, 12/28, Pacers: 16,172; 80%
  • Friday, 12/30, Nets: 16,461; 82%
  • Friday, 1/6, Timberwolves: 18,686; 93% *Best attendance during stretch
  • Tuesday, 1/10, Bulls: 14,361; 71% *First time over .500 all season
  • Saturday, 1/14, 76ers: 17,880; 89%
  • Monday, 1/16, Trail Blazers: 17,395; 86%
  • Wednesday, 1/18, Grizzlies: 15,079; 75%
  • Tuesday, 1/24, Celtics: 16,387; 81% *Funeral game
  • Tuesday, 1/31, Knicks: 16,683; 83%
  • Thursday, 2/2, Lakers: 16,473; 82%

Some takeaways from all of that:

  • The Wizards dropped to 7-13 after losing that Dec. 6 game to the Magic. After beating the Lakers Thursday, they improved to 29-20.
  • The average home attendance in December was 14,931. Only one game in January had that few people in attendance.
  • The average home attendance in January was 16,639. Only one game in December had that many people in attendance.
  • More than 16,300 people have attended five of the past six home games, with the one exception being a Wednesday game against the Grizzlies. Four of those five games have been on weeknights.
  • Only one game managed at least 90 percent capacity over that stretch, but 22 NBA teams average 90 percent capacity at home games this season.

On Thursday night, with the Lakers in town, there was no question the place would be packed with purple and gold jerseys, and while the crowd was dotted with Lakers colors, the crowd itself wasn’t exactly overwhelming.

Once the game got going, the theme continued. Plenty of noise was made for the Wizards, but there were stretches in which the team that had traveled 2,700 miles appeared to have the most support.

The Wizards led by 11 entering the fourth quarter, but a lineup of Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre, Markieff Morris, and Jason Smith let that quickly disintegrate. Jordan Clarkson hit a 3-pointer to open the quarter, Morris split a pair of free throws, then Lou Williams drew a touch call on 3-point attempt. Lakers fans were beginning to take over the stadium, but the Wizards faithful responded with some well-intentioned “De-Fense” chants. After a few ugly Wizards possessions, featuring a blocked shot, a shot clock violation, and a turnover, Larry Nance Jr. threw down a monster alley-oop in transition that sent the place into complete hysteria.

Just two minutes into the period, the lead had been cut to four and John Wall and Bradley Beal were forced back into the game in favor of Burke and Satoransky. Wall quickly went into takeover mode, scoring eight points on three shots over a 61-second span, and finally the locals began to take control of the home stadium.

After Wall iced the game—with an assist from Beal on the chasedown block of the season—he strolled to the free-throw line for his formality free throws, serenaded by MVP chants as he drilled four in a row.

The Lakers fans were out in abundance, but it wasn’t quite to the level of last season’s visit, when Kobe Bryant, in his last game ever at the Verizon Center, took over the game late and delivered a loss to the home team. That, while certainly not great for the Wizards crowd, was an exception. It was the last chance locals had to see one of the game’s elites play. The rampant booing of the Wizards was a whole other problem that night, but the cheering for Bryant’s buckets was to be expected.

As Beal noted, this was different.

Morris, for his part, offered this about the Lakers fans: “They got a lot of Lakers fans, it’s not our fans. They got Lakers fans everywhere, so you can’t really put it on our crowd. They were there when we needed them, and we got the win for them. Let the Lakers go, they’ll be back next game.”

Let’s revisit the numbers. Per ESPN, the Lakers, who are terrible, have the fourth-best road attendance in the NBA, behind just the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and San Antonio Spurs, who are all really good. The average NBA stadium is 95.8 percent full when the Lakers are the visiting team; the Verizon Center was just 82 percent full on Thursday.

The Wizards, even after a considerable spike in January (and one game in February), still have the league’s fourth-worst home attendance by capacity, at just 77.2 percent. By average total attendance, they’re sixth-worst, at just 15,657. By record, they’re the league’s ninth-best team, and four more teams are just two games or fewer ahead of them. The only two teams to have more home wins than Washington’s 21 are the Warriors and Cavs, who have 22 apiece.

Maybe this is the season the Wizards turn everything around and become a legitimate top-7 team. Maybe this is the season they finally make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Maybe they continue to play borderline .600 basketball over the next three or four seasons and actually sneak into a Finals appearance at some point.

The question is: Will the fans follow?

The next home game is Saturday, against the 19-31 New Orleans Pelicans, who, despite their record, are the 12th-best road team by attendance percentage. The Wiz will enter that game riding a 16-game home win streak, and a win would give them a very clean 30-20 record. If the Verizon Center is less than 90 percent full—and I have to reiterate that 22 teams average 90 percent attendance at home, and the Pelicans’ road games average 92.9 percent attendance—it’s yet another giant black mark on this fan base.

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Can the Wizards Afford Otto Porter? http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/can-the-wizards-afford-otto-porter.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/can-the-wizards-afford-otto-porter.html#comments Thu, 02 Feb 2017 19:42:40 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52810 weidieotto

Otto Porter has been nothing short of a revelation for the Washington Wizards this season. He’s not only hanging with the team’s stars, John Wall and Bradley Beal, in both plus/minus and Net Rating, he’s also currently top 10 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) among small forwards. His positive on-court impact is obvious, neatly presented in column after column of advanced statistics online, but there may not be a better summary of what he brings to this season’s Wizards as his shot chart:

shotchart (2)

It’s beautiful, and a testament to just how far young Otto has come. Long-time Wizards reporter Ben Standig sums up the wing’s career journey in fewer than 140 characters:

The question being asked across the league isn’t whether Porter will get a max—because he is—but whether he’s worth the money. The obvious answer is, “Yes, of course,” and I won’t even try to disagree with that assessment (after all, Harrison Barnes is on a max contract). I do, however, want to point out the red flag with Porter, and one that perhaps (to my knowledge, at least) has not been discussed enough.

Otto Porter is greatly benefitting from the Wall-fare state. That’s in large part by design, and that’s fine. Here’s how it works: Basically, John Wall is a force of nature. On the fast-break, he’s able to bend space and time for dunks and layups, and even in the half court, he’s routinely breaking game plans to contain Washington’s secondary options. The Wizards this season take 14.5 shots with a defender within two feet; the Golden State Warriors average 14.4. More telling, however, is the number of shots they get that are, by the Association’s own definition, open: 26.2. Only the Pelicans average more, and by the narrowest of margins (0.3 per game). The difference between the two “open” shot leaders is production: Washington hits 6.5% more of their open shots from the field, and 3.4% more from 3.

Wall, in Scott Brooks’ offense (a refreshing departure the oppressive regime run by Randy Wittman), typically initiates screen-and-roll action with Marcin Gortat(1), or waits for Beal to come off a screen, or picks out Markieff Morris on the block. As defenses are forced to adjust on the fly and send extra bodies to help in the paint, Otto Porter is left alone to contemplate the nature of our reality or, when a skip pass hits him between the numbers, let 3-pointers fly. To the player’s credit, he is connecting like a telephone operator in 1962—regularly, and teams are paying for it.

Of John Wall’s 475 total assists this season, 111 of them have gone to Porter—in other words, 23% of Wall’s assists this season have gone to Porter. With a pass from the All-Star, the fourth-year wing shoots 52.4% from the field and 43.6% from 3. In catch-and-shoot situations, Porter is hitting 49.2% of his shots overall and 47.4% from 3. Not even Bradley Beal is shooting as well as Porter when receiving a pass from Wall—hitting 46.2% from the field and 41.1% from 3, and 40% from both the field and 3 in catch-and-shoot situations.

Catch-and-shoot situations are, by far, Porter’s most frequent offensive contribution: 72.3% of Porter’s shot attempts come with zero dribbles. He takes one dribble 12.7% of the time, and rarely dribbles more than a few times on any possession. And it’s no surprise given the breakdown above that, per NBA.com/stats tracking records, the majority of Porter’s shot attempts come with a defender no closer than four feet. In fact, he’s taken more shots this year with a defender between four and six feet away from him than all other settings combined.

The question I’m asking is whether the Wizards ought to invest max money in a complementary player. Remember, John Wall (as outlined above) has the uncanny ability to make just about any wing player look good, boosting field goal percentages in some cases and bringing veterans back from the dead in others.

Porter has so far proven one thing: that he can hit an open shot from anywhere on the floor. What remains to be seen is whether he can dominate outside of efficiency metrics. He is far from a finished product, and while he’s so far exceeded expectations, it’s still important to ask just how good he might be tomorrow.

He’s a disruptive defender in a team setting, helped by a seven-footer’s wingspan, but he still gets crossed up by quick wings and bullied in head-to-head match-ups with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony. These types of primetime players will be his main competition in the next few seasons, both on the court and in the cap spreadsheets, and there’s no shortage of other high-potential talent coming for the crown. Milwaukee, for example, has two in Jabari Parker, who’s Porter’s size with twice the explosiveness and already shooting 38% from 3 in his third season, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s top 10 in PER overall and makes the impossible (like Euro-stepping into dunks from the arc) look easy. Giannis also accepted a new contract at less than the max.

Another consideration: Maxing Otto Porter would mean the team’s biggest contracts are locked into positions 1, 2, 3—an obvious break from the traditional “Big 3″ combo, in which at least one of the primetime stars is a big, either a dominating center or a power forward with range. It’s also worth considering that talented big men, even those in the middle of the pack, tend to carry a fairly hefty price tag.

What options do the Wizards have? Trading Porter before the deadline simply is not going to happen—the Wizards have long wanted to prove they can develop “homegrown” talent, and moving Porter would not only betray owner Ted Leonsis’ vision for the franchise but also ask more questions of Team President Ernie Grunfeld’s decision making. You can’t just let a max player go, right? Plus, they’re realistically chasing 50 wins for the first time in decades—and you know team brass wants to see skeptics eat crow. Nobody knows nothing, told you so.

There is, somewhere, an alternate basketball universe in which the Wizards will trade Porter—for the right return. Say, a first round pick and a 3-and-D player in the mold of Trevor Ariza, or perhaps a versatile swingman like Rodney Hood or Will Barton, who’d be able to step in and contribute right away without forcing the Wizards to reconsider scheme or reconfigure the offense. Cap dollars saved at the 3 could be invested in solidifying the bench, finding a long-term replacement for Trey Burke, the backup guard whose contract expires at the end of the year, and shoring up a bench that (as well as Jason Smith has played as of late) is full of multi-year contracts but short on game-changing talent.

Teams are “starting to scout Otto Porter different,” Scott Brooks said, reacting to his starting wing going scoreless in the first half against the Knicks this week, which hints at my principal worry. Is he truly a star in the making? Is he capable of creating his own shot, taking defenders off the dribble, and playing up to the standard already set by the most dangerous players in the world? Can he set a new standard?

These questions are impossible to answer right now. Maybe they’d be best left to another team, but the Wizards appear ready to double down.

 


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Wizards Pants the Knickerbockers, Make It 15 Straight Wins at Home http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/wizards-pants-the-knickerbockers-make-it-15-straight-wins-at-home.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/wizards-pants-the-knickerbockers-make-it-15-straight-wins-at-home.html#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 18:45:03 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52806

15 in a row at home like pic.twitter.com/DrrtHhSV1j

— Danny (@recordsANDradio) February 1, 2017

Ridin’ dirty with a 14-game home winning streak, and victories in 11 out of 13 games overall, the Wizards knew they’d still have to exert some effort to defend their turf on Tuesday night. The walking wounded New York Knicks — even without Derrick Rose, Kristaps Porzingis, and Dave DeBusschere, as well as a gaping tear in the psyche of the Mecca of Fandom — weren’t exactly chum in the water. They still had Carmelo Anthony and New York is New York, meaning Knicks jerseys rose from the dead to march on the Verizon Center.

Without bodies and perhaps soon without a no-trade clause, there was no other choice: force-feed Carmelo. First play of the game: Melo on the far left block versus Otto Porter, three pounding dribbles inside, and a 13-foot shot. Markieff Morris came over to contest but Anthony’s too good. Next play, same thing: isolation, a rump thrust into Porter to create space, and a 10-foot jumper while Bradley Beal also swatted at the ball. And another: the pull-up jumper around the screen and off the dribble that led to a Scott Brooks timeout after a 13-6 Knicks lead.

With Carmelo’s reminder and the pest-like prodding of Brandon Jennings, Anthony’s second-fiddle for the evening, it didn’t take long for Washington’s offense to get charged. Two dump-in passes over the top of a helpless Joakim Noah to Marcin Gortat got the wheels rolling. A couple of John Wall break-outs — one spinning into the lane’s red sea, another a side-stepping finger roll — sandwiched a Wall alley-oop pass to Morris as New York’s defense was horse-blinded by a double screen for Beal on the other side of the floor.

And, well, the next shot Anthony attempted after three consecutive makes to start the game was a pull-up from the deep 2-point corner range. Washington’s defense was primed to over-help or at least commit an illegal defense violation. But Anthony didn’t body Porter like he previously did with ease, he didn’t get the defense moving just a bit. He just settled, and that’s just kind of his thing. First quarter shooting of 5-for-7 turned into a paltry 10-for-17 on the night for Carmelo.

He was overwhelmed. Washington overwhelmed anything Jeff Hornacek could muster. By halftime, four of the Wizards’ starters were in double-figures; and Porter had zero points. In the third quarter, Otto scored 10 points (to 9 for a refusing-to-go-quietly Anthony) as the Wizards outscored New York 33-22 out of halftime to assume a 91-76 lead heading into the final period. We don’t know what sort of java really runs through Scott Brooks’ veins, but apparently he had to remind his team just who they were at halftime. Not the team that played down to the sloppiness of the Knicks, countering baffling traveling violations by an ansty Jennings with seven turnovers of their own, even if the Wizards did outscore the Knicks 31-26 in the second quarter. Wall scored 10 points in that period, all in the last six minutes, and Beal chipped in 8 points. Each guard made it his business to muscle-down Jennings on both ends of the court.

The third quarter seemed elementary at the time but it was a key growth moment not lost on Brooks after the game. “I talked to them at halftime and our mindset needed to be adjusted a little bit,” he said. “I thought the guys came out with the appropriate mindset that you have to have to win in this league consistently. I thought that third quarter was the way we need to play.”

Anthony got himself a jump shot in the first 60 seconds, but before you knew it the Wizards were on a 16-2 run to start the third. Four different starters scored during this run and not one was named John Wall. He even only assisted on one of the buckets — go figure — a cross-court pass that sliced through the air, landing in Beal’s hands, which sent the ball flying high into the heavens before perfectly splashing through a net 28 feet away. Anthony, for his part, settled for more punch-the-clock jumpers, somewhat cultivated by Morris’ tough defense on him. Porter wasn’t perfect (still needs to get stronger); Oubre bothered Anthony on more than one occasion (but also learned lessons in what Melo can do with little space); and Morris served as the muscle to keep the Knick from backing into the paint. The collectively did their job, and lack of punch from the rest of the New York roster was a major contributor 117-101 outcome in Washington’s favor.

Brooks had an opportunity to rest most of his starters in the fourth quarter and he took advantage of it. Morris, usually the first starter to head to the bench early in games, lately in favor of Oubre’s change-of-pace on defense, did the heavy lifting at the end to keep New York at bay. Morris scored 9 fourth quarter points in just under 10 minutes of action and 24 for the game. Beal led the way with 28, Wall and Gortat each scored 15, Otto added his 10 third quarter points, and Oubre chipped in 14 off the bench. Jeff Hornacek waited until the 4:42 mark of the fourth quarter to waive the white flag — with his Knicks down 19 points. New York fans, while visually present throughout, were barely audible for most of the game before fading into the night.

The Wizards, and their turnaround, remain virtually unexplainable. They went from a team with faltering small columns knocking into steady pillars and compromising in the infrastructure to solid, relatively equally distributed cables supporting the entire bridge, suspending our disbelief, if you will. Wall and Beal continue to level up; Gortat cares less about touches and more about rebounding than ever (although he still gets his feature touches); Otto was always about more than 3-point shooting and it shows; and Brooks has found a way to keep Morris engaged — knowing his role yet with independent opportunity — and most importantly, rebounding (more on that to come).

They are disruptive (tied with Golden State for most deflections per game at 18.4; top 7 in loose balls recovered); they play for each other (9th in assists (23.5), 10th in assists points created (55.4), and fifth in screen assists (11.8); and in a make-or-miss league, they are making. Washington ranks sixth in eFG% (52.6 after the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Clippers, and Cavaliers); third in catch-and-shooter FG% (40.8), second in pull-up FG% (40.7), and seventh in paint touch FG% (67.5).

There are seven games until the All-Star break, with five of those games at home and — gasp — three on national television (also all at home: vs. Cleveland, TNT on Feb. 6; vs Indiana, ESPN on Feb. 10; and vs. Oklahoma City, TNT on Feb. 13). Opportunity is aligning to make an even greater splash leading into the post-break home stretch. But a bigger splash isn’t necessarily on this team’s radar. The current philosophy around the locker room and front office: keep your mouth shut, head down, and keep swimming until the race is over.

https://twitter.com/WashWizards/status/826614450383966209

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The Washington Wizards Have Finally Arrived http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/the-washington-wizards-have-finally-arrived.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/02/the-washington-wizards-have-finally-arrived.html#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 14:51:40 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52792

"Our fans have really anchored us here at home, we hear them every game." – @KELLYOUBREJR after the team's 15th straight home win #DCFamily pic.twitter.com/oCEcwQ8uUI

— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) February 1, 2017

It was not the victory against the Los Angeles Clippers. Or the Boston Celtics’ funeral. Or the dominant road win in Atlanta.

The Washington Wizards’ signature win of the season (so far) — the game that completed their metamorphosis from an irrelevant franchise to a true contender in the Eastern conference — was a Tuesday night win against the New York Knicks.

Yes, the same New York Knicks that were coming off a quadruple overtime loss less than 48 hours ago; same Knicks playing without Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Rose; same team that has only won five of their last twenty games (and who are sitting in 11th place in the conference).

This was the game that good teams have to win. This was the game that the Wizards of yesteryear would have lost. Hell, the Wizards of just two and a half months ago lost a similar game to a depleted Philadelphia squad.

Washington entered the Knicks game with unprecedented momentum on their side. The national media was singing their praises at such a high pitch it was almost inaudible to long-suffering Wizards fans. NBA.com’s power rankings slotted Washington at five. ESPN’s Marc Stein had them at four. CBS jumped them all the way up to three — as in third best team in the league.

If ever there was a trap game, this was it. After New York raced out to an early 16-8 lead behind three Carmelo Anthony mid-range jumpers and two Brandon Jennings 3-pointers, it looked like Washington may indeed fall victim to its own hype.

But these are not your father’s Wizards — or even your slightly older brother’s Wizards.

John Wall flipped the switch and hit a driving layup, threw an alley-oop to Markieff Morris, then hit another layup over Jennings.

The game would go on for another 40 minutes but the outcome was never in doubt. Even when New York was killing Washington on the offensive boards (+13 for the game) and enjoying a huge disparity at the free throw line (+20 in attempts), there was no doubt Washington would win. It was only a matter of time before the levees broke and Scott Brooks’ offense came pouring through.

That’s what makes this the ultimate statement game. Washington sleep-walked through the first half and still had a five point lead at the break. It was boring. It was methodical. It was exactly what a top playoff seed is supposed to do.

Washington is finally setting the bar at something higher than “make the playoffs” and they keep raising it with every win. The Wizards currently sit in fourth place, 1.5 games behind Toronto, 2 games behind Boston, and 4.5 games behind Cleveland.

Washington is playing like they expect to win every single time they step on the court and Beal said after the game this is the most confident team he has played on:

“For sure. I would even say more than even that playoff team. I think the joy that we have, the fun that we have is amazing. It’s positive in there and we want nothing but the best for one another. There is great camaraderie and we just take it all on the floor. We just play for each other, we don’t care who scores the most points, we don’t care who has a good night, who has a bad night as long as it is a win at the end.”

Kelly Oubre Leading the Scout Team.

There are many facets to the Wizards turnaround, but a huge one is the emergence of Kelly Oubre. The Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner remarked during the game that it’s crazy to think a 21-year-old is leading the bench unit. This is even crazier when you remember that his rookie year was all but wasted in Randy Wittman’s doghouse.

Oubre shot particularly well versus New York (5-for-7 FG, 2-for-4 3PT), and he showed his defensive versatility guarding both Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Jennings. It’s his ability to guard point guards that has been one of the biggest difference-makers in Washington’s turnaround.

For years, the Wizards (ahem, Wall) have struggled containing small, quick point guards. Kelly has proven adept at doing just that. He has the lateral quickness to stay in front of them and the reach to contest jumpers. In the past month, Oubre has switched onto Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas, and Kemba Walker.

Oubre’s versatility allows Washington to switch 1 through 4 when he replaces Markieff in a small ball lineup. As David Aldridge pointed out in his most recent Monday Morning Tip, that five man unit “has been insane defensively — 91.7 points per 100 — and has a net rating of 28.9, sixth-best in the league among units that have played in 10 or more games together.”

Oubre, like Beal, senses the team’s confidence:

“We just have ultimate confidence in ourselves and our teammates and each other so we go out there and go to work for each other every night. It feels good.”

Satoransky With An Exclamation Point – Or Two!

For fans who stuck around until the bitter end, Tomas Satoranksy provided two of the biggest highlights of the game in the final 95 seconds. First, he took Mindaugas Kuzminskas off the dribble with his left hand, then jumped from one side of the paint and hit a scoop shot on the other side of the rim.

About a minute later, Sasha Vujacic stole a Sheldon McClellan pass and raced down-court for a layup. Satoransky pursued and measured Vujacic up for a chase down block that got the bench to its feet.

It was a fun way to end a delightfully boring game.

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Rolling Wizards Searching for What’s Next http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/01/rolling-wizards-searching-for-whats-next.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/01/rolling-wizards-searching-for-whats-next.html#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 22:27:57 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52786 john wall, bradley beal, washington wizards, detroit pistons, nba, truth about it, adam mcginnis

The Wizards are on a roll, you might have heard. And such circumstances make it easy to keep the pedal pressed against a team like the Pelicans, which they did on Sunday evening. Washington jumped out to a 9-0 advantage and only had to fight a few cold spells before taking a 17-point halftime lead, and later the game by 13, 107-94.

The Wizards, in all their recent glory, were even real enough to falter and relinquish a relatively commanding lead over New Orleans — the Pels led for 35 seconds late in the third quarter. It came down to this: Anthony Davis, superstar, scored 16 of his 36 points in the third period. Jrue Holiday, former all-star, scored 11 of his 26 points in the third. They were at home and they fought, majorly, with a 33-17 period over Washington after intermission. But the Wizards: they countered with a 33-21 fourth quarter, and it wasn’t all about their stars, John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Each Wizards starter scored at least 13 points on the game, Beal leading the way with 27 and Markieff Morris following with 21 (12 in the fourth quarter). And while Wall didn’t sink any of his 3-point attempts, Beal, Morris and Otto Porter each made three 3s (Washington shot 10-21 from deep, compared to New Orleans’ 10-32). There were a few positive contributions from the bench, and there were some lulls. Washington was outscored 20-11 by the Pelicans reserves.

It comes down to this: outside of fully healthy starting squads in Cleveland, Golden State, Los Angeles (Clippers), and San Antonio, there’s not a more well-rounded opening five-man unit than Washington’s. Statistically, the case is made — season NetRtg starter ranks (min. 250 minutes):

  1. Warriors +23.0
  2. Clippers +16.2
  3. Wizards +11.1
  4. Spurs +10.0
  5. Pacers +9.5
  6. Cavaliers +9.3
  7. Hornets +8.9
  8. Rockets +8.5
  9. Lakers +7.6
  10. Celtics +7.3

And the NBA’s top starting lineups since the Wizards have won 11 of 13 games (Jan. 6 to 30):

  1. Warriors +28.3
  2. Wizards +17.5
  3. Celtics +13.4
  4. Cavaliers +13.3
  5. 76ers +11.7

In one sense, even though the Wizards got off to a very poor start, team brass could not be happier with how their investment in this starting unit has worked out.

Washington went 17-13 in 30 games after trading for Morris last February. Of course, Wall sat out the last five games of the season and the Wizards went 4-1 (each Wall, Beal, and Morris missed the last two games, both wins). The starters played together 197 minutes during 2015-16 and fielded a NetRtg of 5.6 — ranked 13th in the league over that time frame (min. 150 minutes).

After losing out on Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and any other prime free agent they targeted this summer (Ryan Anderson, really?), the Wizards settled on their core. The hope was that Wall and Beal would take a next step, as well as Porter; that Gortat (turning 33 in February but with relatively low NBA mileage on his body) would continue to be a solid contributor; and that Morris would find the comfort and maturity level to be a difference-maker. Ernie Grunfeld’s team has been extremely lucky — not only has all of this happened through 47 games, but the Wizards have also been healthy.

According to Man-Games Lost (thru Jan. 29 games), the Wizards have lost 88 man-games due to injury (46 claimed by Mahinmi). This ranks 10th-most in the league; through Jan. 29 of last season, Washington ranked first with 197 man-games lost due to injury. According to the website’s IIT-VORP metric (Injury Impact to Team – Value Over Replacement Player), the Wizards rank 26th this season in terms of significance of injuries. Last season that ranking was 20th. Which, if you are metric-ing at home, while injuries were the excuse battle cry last season, the volume of such for the Wizards had less comparative impact. Nonetheless, what drives home the point in the present day: Washington is finally healthy (so far, knock on wood, count your lucky stars, etc.).

It’s nice to see plans coming together, or rather, the horses designated to carry the stable working together. On Sunday in New Orleans it was Gortat’s determination to be more physical versus Anthony Davis, in each attacking him on offense, relying on help defense, and otherwise keeping Davis far away from the basket. Morris continued to display a renewed commitment to defensive rebounding (or perhaps newfound if we are thinking about his career in total). In 13 games since Jan. 6, his Defensive Rebounding Rate is 20.1 percent, a skyrocket from his 16.8 percent through his first 33 games. Porter continues to scorch the nets while even using fewer possessions. And Wall and Beal have been relatively consistent in their output on the season, seeing minor upticks in various advanced stats while making major strides in overall NetRtg. They, too, are standing taller on the shoulders of better performing teammates.

Even when the Wizards hit droughts versus the Pelicans — sinking one field goal over the first four minutes of the second quarter, or allowing several runs in the third (11-4 to start and 22-6 midway till the end), they didn’t show a ton of panic. Scott Brooks inserted Beal to play more with the second unit in the second period, and that helped trigger a 6-0 run in 70 seconds to push Washington’s lead back to 10. And while the Wizards settled for too many jumpers in the third quarter (5-15 outside the paint, 3-5 at the rim), as Davis and Holiday took turns scoring 27 of their team’s 33 points in the period, they forged ahead with mere confidence of knowing they were the better team.

A corner has been turned, TAI’s Conor Dirks claimed after Washington’s recent win in Atlanta. And that’s OK to wholeheartedly believe while proceeding with some trepidation. The bench has been better, by all means, but they still lack that playoff punch. NetRtgs over the first 34 games versus the last 13: Trey Burke: -11.5 to -3.1; Kelly Oubre: -4.5 to +10.3; Jason Smith: -10.3 to -0.4; Tomas Satoransky: +2.1 to +8.2; and Marcus Thornton and Andrew Nicholson, given plenty of opportunity along the way, have justifiably fallen further and further out of the rotation.

There are 35 regular season games left — plenty of time for a squad that has stayed together to further gel, plenty of time for other imperfections to show, and a glimmer of time to smoothen any issues (including roster moves, as likely as they are to be minor or not even at all). The Wizards are fun to watch, the hottest team in the NBA, and have experienced enough at the midway point to not lose focus on chunks of games in their immediate vision.

The only question: Where can they take us next?

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What’s Been Working for the Wizards? http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/01/whats-been-working-for-the-wizards.html http://www.truthaboutit.net/2017/01/whats-been-working-for-the-wizards.html#comments Sun, 29 Jan 2017 20:44:51 +0000 http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=52773 C3NbJOXXUAEy5xk

[photo via NBA]


The Washington Wizards are 26-20. As has been noted widely and with tentative enthusiasm, Washington has the best record in the East since December 1, at 20-9. And with their best performance of the season occurring just days ago in Atlanta, the line is still trending upward. With a broad stroke, it’s easy to see a few reasons for the shift in efficacy: a coach that experimented desperately for weeks at the season’s outset finally settling on rotations that emphasize the presence of multiple starters on the court at most, if not all, times; Bradley Beal finding a comfortable mix of ball-handling and catch-and-shoot opportunities, driving to the rim more frequently in the process; Otto Porter shooting the lights out from behind the arc.

But how has this played out in the cold winter’s light of statistical record?

Well, as of today, Washington is third in the NBA in field goal percentage. Who’s to thank? Here are some of Washington’s top scorers, along with their respective field goal percentages.

  • Marcin Gortat, 59.2 percent
  • Otto Porter, 53.5 percent, 46.5 percent on 3-pointers
  • Jason Smith, 52.3 percent
  • Trey Burke, 47 percent, 44.7 percent on 3-pointers
  • John Wall, 46.3 percent, 32 percent on 3-pointers
  • Bradley Beal, 45.5 percent, 38.4 percent on 3-pointers

For Gortat, who has been an unsung, and particularly stable, hero this season, these are career-best numbers. Gortat has never averaged over 56.7 percent on field goals for a season. While Gortat is attempting fewer field goals per game (his lowest attempt numbers since 2010-11), the decreased attempts thankfully have not resulted in any apparent frustration from the Hammer. What’s strange about Gortat’s increased efficiency is that his percentage from 0-3 feet is actually decreased from last season, from 70.4 percent to 67.8 percent. The increase has come from shots between 3-10 feet, where Gortat is suddenly a 51.8 percent shooter (up from 49 percent last year and 41.4 percent in 2014-15).

Porter, too, is posting career-best numbers. Otto’s improvement is aided in part by his embrace of his niche strengths: cutting to the basket and finding blue sky among Wall and Beal’s ball-handling to come open for 3-pointers. A career-high 41 percent of Otto’s shots are 3-pointers this season. And while he has hardly forsaken the midrange shot he’s capable of making (especially the “long two,” which still accounts for 20 percent of his shot attempts), an increase in 3-point attempts combined with a career-best 46.5 percent efficiency on those shots is enough to provide the outside threat Washington has needed to complement Wall’s slashing ability and Beal’s floor-stretching shot.

But let’s get back to midrange shots. Washington ranks fifth among NBA teams in the percentage of their total points that come from midrange attempts, currently at 18.8 percent. Additionally, Washington is fifth among NBA teams in “elbow” points per game (5.5). If you’ve ever seen John Wall come off a screen on the right elbow, you know why they rank where they do. It’s long been a pet shot of Wall’s, but he’s had mixed success over the years. This season, Wall’s been money, hitting 47.8 percent of his right elbow jumpers.

shotchart

Wall, like many other Wizards, is also sporting a career-best field goal percentage of 46.4 percent, up from his previous career-high in 2014-15 of 44.5 percent.

One question that remains is how much across-the-board increases in field goal percentage have to do with individual improvement, and how much those increases have to do with Washington’s new coach. It would be too easy to decry Wittman’s stodgy offense as the entire problem, one that’s been alleviated by Brooks’ hiring. But that theory is complicated by how much Brooks’ players have relied on midrange attempts, even while individual players like Beal and Porter drastically increase their number of attempts from beyond the arc. The change hasn’t been revolutionary in scope, but it hasn’t been invisible either. The Wizards are, to the eye test, fun to watch. When Wall puts pressure on a defense, and Beal plays as much like a Dwyane Wade as a Klay Thompson, opportunities abound for players like Porter, Oubre, and even Markieff Morris, who recently took exception to a Bleacher Report slideshow and decided he wanted to stick it to the clickbaiters.

Down in New Orleans, the Wizards have a plum and primed matchup against a Pelicans team that won’t be able to keep up with Washington’s starters, despite the presence of superstar Anthony Davis. Washington currently leads the league in deflections, and ranks fifth in screen assists per game (both statistics recently categorized by the league’s tracking of “hustle” stats). Against the Pelicans, thin on a good day, pushing the pace and forcing mistakes from unproven players will be key. At fifth in the East, and just a win away from tying recently vanquished Atlanta for the fourth seed, the Wizards have, to my non-expert eye, turned a corner.

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