After a thrilling first week of games that saw the Wizards win 2 games by a combined 6 points and lose a tough home opener to the Knicks on Halloween, the Wizards head into week 2 of the regular season hoping to build off strong performances from John Wall and Bradley Beal as they face off against 3 playoff teams from a year ago. Before looking ahead, relive the fast paced, explosive week from The House of Guards against Milwaukee last Friday as they combined for 46 points and 13 assists.
This Week’s Matchups
Wednesday: vs. San Antonio Spurs (2-1)
First on the slate for week 2 is home game number two against the new look San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs made the free agent splash of the summer signing all-star LaMarcus Aldridge, along with the underrated move to sign veteran power forward David West to solidify their bench. This is unusually early in the season for the two teams to face off for the first of two season matchups. Playing this early has both pros and cons for the Wizards. Bringing in a player of Aldridge’s magnitude usually means a few early growing pains for the new team, but this new team is coached by Greg Popovich who has led the Spurs to 50 wins in 16 straight seasons, something the Wizards haven’t done since the 1978-79 season. For the Wizards, running a new offense this year, an early matchup with the veteran Spurs means that they must limit turnovers and continue to take high percentage shots. Through 3 games the Wizards are averaging 19 turnovers, and even with the added possessions from the uptempo pace, would most likely be too many to over come.
The Spurs are one of the best defensive teams in the league, and it will be interesting to see how both sides approach a few key matchups. Tony Parker is 33 and has looked a few steps slow the last two seasons, and will be tasked with trying to keep up with John Wall for much of his time on the floor. Don’t be surprised to see Kawhi Leonard move over to guarding Wall in spot minutes in the first half, and in much of the fourth quarter if the game stays close towards the final whistle. If this happens, look for the wizards to exploit a possible mismatch with Parker possible switching onto Bradley Beal or Otto Porter. For the Wizards, it will be key to limit Aldridge’s post ups in a plus matchup against Kris Humphries, Jared Dudley, and Drew Gooden, as well as making sure to close out on the Spurs three-point shooters. Danny Green has one of the quickest releases in the league and Bradley Beal has to make sure to fight through every screen on defense. On the other side of this matchup, Danny Green has shown that he can stay with dynamic shooting guards, meaning Beal will need to be focused on getting to his spots, and the rest of the Wizards will need to help to get him good looks on offense. In addition to his showcasing his superstar stopping defense, Kawhi Leonard has shown since winning Finals MVP in 2014, that he is more than capable of shouldering the offensive load as well. Otto Porter has been very up and down with his defense over the last half year and will have to make sure to not have many defensive lapses while covering Leonard.
Friday: at Boston Celtics (1-2)
Friday the Wizards return to the road to face-off with the Boston Celtics in an intriguing Eastern Conference matchup. One of the league’s youngest teams, the Celtics are expected by many to challenge for a top 6 seed after surprisingly finishing 7th in the East a year ago. So far the C’s have continued to run the offense through supercharged sixth man Isaiah Thomas, while integrating summer acquisition David Lee into the starting lineup. Their starting backcourt of Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley have been stout defensively in their short time together and it will be interesting to see their approach to stopping the Wizards new pace and space lineups. As a starter last year Smart averaged 1.8 steals per game and will look to build off his 2.3 steal average early this season.
This matchup will have a much different feel after the departure of Pierce in the offseason, who helped make the lone game in Boston last year seem a little more friendly for his new team. For the Wizards, execution will be key. Although the Celtics have improved from last season, the Wiz should be able to show that the improvements they made have been more effective, as outside of Thomas the Celtics have few consistent options on offense. In addition to Thomas, Smart and Bradley, look for former #2 overall pick Evan Turner to come in and try to create more opportunities for his teammates. With so many ball handlers on offense, the C’s have shown in the past an inability to consistently find a distinct identity to help them get easy and efficient baskets. Thomas is averaging 23.3 points and 6.3 assits, but has done it on 39.6% shooting. The Celtics are a team that can hang around for three-quarters before getting an offensive explosion from Thomas, so the Wizards will need to take advantage of any offensive slumps the Celtics may get into.
The Wizards need to continue getting good shots, but must get more production from the bench and frontcourt. With so many pieces returning from injury and becoming acquainted with the new system, the players outside of Wall and Beal have been inconsistent through the first week, and it will be key to get extra support from the role players in the first game of a road back-to-back. In a week that the Wizards start with an improved 55-27 Spurs team and end with a Hawks team that won a surprising 60 games a year ago, the Wiz cannot afford to overlook this matchup with Boston. Look for the Wizards to come out aggressive and hopefully get the starters some rest before an overnight flight to Atlanta for a Saturday game against the Hawks.
Saturday: at Atlanta Hawks (3-1)
Closing out the week and the back end of a back-to-back, the Wiz are headed to Philips Arena on Saturday to square off against the Atlanta Hawks, who ended the Wizards season last year in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Hawks lost Demarre Carroll and added Tiago Splitter, and it will be interesting to see how Atlanta manages to defend the Wizards new offensive approach this season. The Hawks have an unorthodox starting lineup that sports 5 players who can and will all take 3 point shots. Last year in the playoffs this led to many long rebounds, and a defensive rebounding hole when Gortat had to leave the paint to challenge Al Horford at the three-point lineup.
Through 4 games the Hawks are 3-1 and getting great production from a number of players on the roster. Old Dominion product Kent Bazemore has stepped into a starting role this year and has had 39 points in his last 2 games, while averaging 11 for the season. Providing solid defense and 3 point shooting, Bazemore has been huge as Thabo Sefolosha comes up to speed in his return from a broken leg last season. The Hawks big three of Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and Horford are averaging over 16 points per game and consistently provide solid performances in assists, rebounds and steals as well.
Two key matchups to look at: Look for Bradley Beal to continue his defensive brilliance against Kyle Korver from a year ago. Even with John Wall out of the lineup and Beal having to shoulder an absurd amount of the offensive load, he managed to chase Korver around on defense, limiting him to 7 points per game, 31% shooting and 28% on three pointers. Also, the Wizards guards will have to make sure to stay in front of backup point guard Dennis Schroder who has shown a consistent ability to get past the Wizards’ first line of defense and to the rim.
The Wiz move to 4-0 on the road, but drop to 0-2 at the Phone Booth, losing to the Spurs and beating the Celtics/Hawks.