Two weeks into the season, the Wizards are sitting right at .500, sporting a 3-3 record. This week the Wizards look to protect home court with games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Orlando Magic. The task may be more difficult than expected as guard Bradley Beal is questionable for Tuesday’s game with a sore left shoulder. Beal is expected to be a game time decision and his status will be closely monitored in the next 24 hours.
As most people know, this is the only visit for local DC product Kevin Durant, who’s looming free agency has been discussed locally for almost two years now. Starring locally at Rockville’s Montrose Christian School, Durant continually has shown pride for the region, proudly supporting the Redskins and holding an annual summer camp at Sidwell Friends School in Northwest. Before we get to this week’s matchups, let’s highlight some pictures of Kevin and John Wall hanging out in the offseason, and the time they combined for 105 points in a summer league game.
This Week’s Matchups
Tuesday vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-3)
In the first of two matchups between the Wizards and Thunder, a fully healthy OKC team comes to Verizon Center having lost three of their last four games, and sporting a 1-3 record so far against playoff teams from a year ago. The Thunder’s core has remained the same from a year ago, and the only real changes are at head coach and with the health of the roster. As this is only the eighth game of Billy Donovan’s NBA career, he’s still feeling out the differences between the pros and college and figuring out how exactly he wants to divvy up the rotation.
Even if the Thunder are actually struggling some with this new coaching system, they still have two of the top five players in the NBA, and as this is a star-driven league, the team has a great chance of winning any time Russell Westbrook and KD are on the floor together. Through seven games, the duo is averaging 56.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 13.8 assists, 13 free-throw attempts and 3 steals per game.
For the Wizards, they have to be happy to be back home after two tough road losses last week in Boston and Atlanta. To win the game the Wizards need to limit turnovers, especially against a team in OKC that can turn steals into points in seconds.
The Wizards are currently leading the league averaging 19.7 turnovers per game, while the Thunder are second with 18.1. Part of the rise in turnovers for the Wiz is the increase in pace. So far Washington is second in the league averaging 104.9 possessions per 48 minutes. Surely, Randy Wittman has been preaching to the players to find a way to limit turnovers, even in the fast-paced offense.
On defense, the Wiz need to limit mental lapses. Taking your eyes off of Russell Westbrook for less than a second can lead to a backdoor cut and dunk, while losing Kevin Durant can mean an automatic three-pointer. On offense, look for the Wizards to keep up the fast pace, while feeding the big men when eternal black hole Enes Kanter is on the court. This will be especially true if Beal cannot play. It will be hard to replace his 22.7 ppg average and efficient shooting thus far. It will be a team effort to fill-in-the gap, and new additions Gary Neal and Jared Dudley will be key to the Wizards offensive strategy. Here’s to hoping headband Brad can go!
Saturday vs. Orlando Magic (3-4)
Kevin Durant isn’t the only local kid returning to the Verizon Center this week. 2013 number two overall Victor Oladipo returns to the DC area to avenge a loss in game one of the 2015 season at Amway Center in Orlando. Oladipo, a graduate of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, MD leads a young Magic team into the phone booth, where the Magic have lost four straight against the Wizards, and nine straight in the series matchup. The Magic have played surprisingly well so far this season for new head coach Scott Skiles, losing in double overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder, losing in overtime to the Houston Rockets, and handing the Toronto Raptors their first loss of the season. Oladipo and young talent Tobias Harris may be without borderline All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, who has missed two straight games with a knee injury and will not play Monday night against the Indiana Pacers.
A classic “mark it on your calendar game” for fans of sorcery, this will be game two of four in the season matchup for the Wizards and Magic. Game one on October 28th saw the Wizards winning 88-87, with John Wall hitting a game winning floater with 12 seconds left. In that game, the Wizards shot 39.3% and the Magic shot 37% in a game that clearly featured two teams playing their first games of the season. There were 34 combined turnovers and both teams managed 12-54 shooting from three-point range. Among the positives for the Wizards, they came back from 5 down with two minutes to go, and showed the ability to limit Orlando’s effectiveness in the paint. Potentially without Nikola Vucevic in this matchup, the Wizards will need to follow a game plan of getting the ball out of Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris’ hands. New stretch-4 Kris Humphries will follow Harris as he moves from the paint to three-pont line.
In addition to potentially missing Nikola Vucevic, another difference since game one, is the offensive explosion from starting small forward Evan Fournier. Although he had three points in game one against Washington, Fournier leads the team in scoring at 19 points per game, while shooting 39% from three-point range. Similar to their defense on Kyle Korver last week, the Wizards will need to chase Fournier through off-ball screens, but will also have to deal with his increasing ball-handling abilities. The Wizards should be able to keep their streak against the Magic rolling to 10 after this Saturday night matchup.
Next Week’s Matchups: Tuesday, November 17 vs. Bucks; Saturday, November 21 @ Pistons
All Stats via NBA.com
Here’s to a 2-0 week, and relive two game winners Bradley Beal hit against the Thunder in 2013 and Magic in 2014
Beal Game Winner vs. Thunder
Beal Buzzer Beater vs. Magic