[Randy Wittman could see it coming.]
When preseason theories spoke of young legs benefiting the Wizards in a lockout-shortened season, my thinking was different. They needed all the training camp and preseason they could get, and the lack of it showed many ways in the season’s early going. Now they are starting to play better, more as a team, sharing the ball, and understanding complete effort. Big road wins in Detroit and Portland gave the young Wizards confidence going into Wednesday’s game with the Clippers. But they endured for just over 32 minutes in Los Angeles until tired legs, and more prevalently, tired minds, took over. The home team on rest with more shooting focus after a tough loss in Dallas, along with the capabilities to get shooters open shots, took the game over Washington by 18 points, 102-84. There were a couple game-deciding moments.
With 3:25 left in the third quarter, John Wall assisted a Nick Young 3-pointer for the third time in less than four minutes. Young hadn’t scored a single point in front of his hometown crowd until that first three; suddenly he had nine points. Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier were openly commenting on television how most of Young’s shots looked to be pressing the issue too much, but when Wall started setting him up, it looked like the Wizards would make it a game. The Wizards tied the score at 66 with that third Young three. Within the spurt, Young also had one assist, almost two had JaVale McGee not missed a shot at the rim. Oh what a dream sequence. But then what happened?
Blake Griffin went over McGee’s back for an offensive rebound, came down, gathered himself… monster dunk, 68-66 Clippers. Could the whistle have been blown against Griffin? Possibly. Physicality in the paint can be like refereeing holding in football, it can be called just about every time. The many areas of gray mean more subjectivity comes into the equation. Did McGee even try to box Griffin out? Yes, more so than usual. Other circumstance includes McGee’s lack of help on the defensive boards by the likes of Young, Jordan Crawford and Rashard Lewis.
On the other end, as the Clippers sagged off a Lewis screen for Wall, Kenyon Martin and Chris Paul ended up with a switch, Paul covering Lewis in the paint. In a perfect world Wall hits the wide open shot that Martin left him when he didn’t care to press up, paying attention to Lewis instead. In the Wizards world, McGee waited too long to clear the paint so the Wizards could best iso Lewis against Paul. Then the timing was thrown off when Wall waited too long to pass, and Lewis couldn’t hold a seal. The result was a Wizards turnover, and the Clippers went demoralizing the other way with a Paul alley-oop to Griffin that the athleticism of Wall unsuccessfully tried to get too. John was high but far short. Some photographer has a great one of that play. Washington called timeout but didn’t score for the rest of the period. They went into the fourth quarter down 74-66 thanks to an 8-0 Clippers run.