This week’s House of Zards is a special one because WE ARE LIVE FROM ATLANTA!
This weekend, with the fiancee in Tampa to watch her Giants, I decided to hop the Megabus to Atlanta. It’s a six hour trip with a couple of stops for breaks, but ultimately not that bad. I caught up on the Bill Simmons Podcast, read The Best American Short Stories 2015 and ate an entire canister of pringles because once you pop you really can’t stop. I bought a single ticket, lower bowl, to watch the the Hawks host my Wizards.
Before we get to Atlanta’s game, I want to talk about the two games leading up to Saturday’s adventure. Wednesday night was one of my better regular season experiences as a Wizards fan, and it almost wasn’t. With only about seven seconds left in the game, Tony Parker hits a three pointer to tie it up, and presumably send this game to overtime. An overtime, in which, I don’t think I’d be comfortable playing in against a Poppavich-led Spurs team.
That being said, there are seven seconds left, and this is one of those “leap” moments.
John Wall receives the inbound, and the Spurs decide to hide Tony Parker on Jared Dudley, so Danny Green presses Wall at the top of the key. Smart move, especially since that puts Kawhi Leonard, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, on red-hot Bradley Beal. Here’s where things get interesting, and you start to wonder if Randy Wittman is a real wizard with the clip board. Beal runs to the top of the key, around a Gortat screen and splits Wall and Danny Green. Wall rolls the opposite direction of Beal, and Green follows. On that Gortat screen, though, Kawhi went underneath and essentially was picked by the presence of Aldridge, who was guarding Gortat. As a result, the only option for the Spurs is to switch Lamarcus Aldridge (known for his less-than-stellar defense) onto Beal.
One little jab to the left was enough to trick Aldridge, and Beal is wide open. Dagger.
At this point my fiancee had fallen asleep and I scared the crap out of her when I yelled “BOOM!”
All of sudden we were 3-1, just defeated the championship-contending Spurs. There’s every reason to feel good.
Then we played Friday night… I was out celebrating a friend’s birthday, and I am very happy that I was. I’m never interested in a game where the Wizards give up 72 points in the FIRST HALF. Granted, a step-back defensively was expected once Wittman decided to go small, but this was a disaster. The Wizards looked slow, confused, and completely unprepared for Isiah Thomas and Jared Sullinger. Admittedly, I was a little unprepared for Jared Sullinger, and I rationalized with myself that games like this would happen. The Wizards were probably looking ahead to Atlanta and Boston took advantage.
So, it’s Saturday, I’m a little hungover, but excited enough that it doesn’t matter. A live NBA game is by far the best live sporting experience. Between the lights, the dunks, the crowd eruption clutch three-pointers… there isn’t anything better. I mean.. does anything beat court animations? I don’t think so. I entered Philips Arena with the expectation that the fans were going to be lifeless, unappreciative, and thus a solid advantage for me as someone in enemy territory. I was very wrong. Behind me was an entire section of very passionate Hawks fans. It was collegiate, the way they hooked arms, waved side-to-side, repeatedly shouted, “Otto Porter! You are terrible!” despite the fact that he had a career-night. Props to you, Hawks fans.
Watching the Wizards play live and up-close, the unfortunate thing is that I’m inclined to believe that Jared Dudley is going to prove very little. Intellectually, he’s a really solid player. He doesn’t make many mistakes, but as a stretch-four, he doesn’t quite offer that wing defense that you need. Otto Porter is struggling as well, but he’s only in his third year. Dudley is simply being out hustled. What I did enjoy? The three-guard set used by Washington at times. I don’t think this was innovation on Wittman’s part, but really a response to our lack of bigs (I miss Seraphin), and as soon as Gooden is healthy we probably won’t see much of it… though maybe we should. More on that below.
The Hawks won this game because they were better coached and because of Kent Bazemore. The Wizards made some ill-advised decisions down the stretch (inbounding the ball all the way to half-court?) that led to wide open opportunities for Atlanta. But look at these two plays here. Humphries had a wide open three that would’ve brought the game within one possession. Instead he misses and the Hawks take it in transition and Bazemore actually takes a very ill-advised shot, which he ends up making, putting the Hawks up 9 and deflating the Wizards. It wasn’t an awful game by Washington, far from it, but Atlanta has not regressed since last season. Don’t let Demarre Carrol’s absence fool you the way it fooled me.
Because of Drew Gooden’s back spasms and Alan Anderson’s ankle, the Wizards currently have little room to adjust rotations, especially for the B-unit, making it hard to compete with teams when the starters need to rest.
The interesting thing, though? The Wizards current starting five is being outscored by 3.5 points per 100 possesions. This lineup has played 80 minutes together so far, so the sample size is large enough, and when you bring in your bench with a deficit, you’re playing a risky game.
The next lineup in terms of minutes is Wall-Beal-Porter-Gooden-Gortat at 10:45, and they are outscoring their opponents by 15 per 100 possessions. Comparatively, the sample size is much smaller, but it warrants discussing moving Gooden to the starting lineup as soon as he’s healthy.
The best lineup has only clocked a whopping 7:11 of total playing time together, but per 100 possessions, that lineup is outscoring opponents by 124 points! That lineup? Wall-Sessions-Beal-Dudley-Nene. Interesting right? A three guard lineup with a stretch four is going to score a lot, especially when it’s guards with range, but I imagine over a longer period of time that size would become an issue. Maybe that’s why they’ve only clocked about seven minutes together, but it’s certainly something to look into if you’re Randy Wittman. Don’t start this lineup, but maybe give it some extended time in the second and third quarters of games. What happens if you swap Dudley with Gooden into that lineup? I don’t know. Nobody knows. Wittman hasn’t tried it out yet, but I imagine it would be even better.
On Tuesday, a very good Thunder team will be visiting the Wizards and probably an arena full of #KD2DC signs. I’m all for the campaign, I just don’t think it has a lot of legs.
After that, Washington has Orlando again. I’m sure I will have a lot to say depending on how the Wizards prepare for this one, especially with four days rest and no traveling. This is a game they should win by twenty, if only because they’ll have the energy to defend all 48 minutes.
Come back on Wednesday for my weekly Power Rankings, which may or may not include the Wizards if they can give us a performance on Tuesday!