Week 6 finds the Wizards immersed in their longest losing streak of the season, as the team sits at a very disappointing 6-8, with four games on this week’s slate. Two weeks ago the team was able to follow up a three game losing streak with an impressive three game win streak against Orlando, Milwaukee and Detroit. Pulling off a four game win streak this go around will be more difficult as the team travels to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers, before returning home for a three game home stand against the Lakers, Suns, and Mavericks. The Cavaliers game will be especially difficult, as they sport a 9-0 home record.
Each contest from the four losses last week was disappointing in its own way. On Tuesday against the Pacers, forwards Paul George and CJ Miles combined for the 15 three pointers, including a 9-9 effort from 3 in the first half. The Pacers set a few franchise and NBA records along the way as well.
Against the Hornets the next night, the Wizards had a 9-point lead with 9:45 left in a game the Wizards were actually competitive and impressive through the a good portion of the first three quarters. The Wiz got behind in the third, but ended the quarter on a 13-0 run to end go into the fourth up 7. But the 4th quarter was a complete train wreck. The Wiz shot 1-20 in the quarter and scored SIX POINTS. Look at the shot chart for the final quarter, and the stats from the last 9:45.
Friday was another blowout in Boston as the Wizards lost by 33. There were plenty of embarrassing stats to go around.
Saturday against the Raptors, the Wizards held a lead going into the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters, but couldn’t hold on at the end as Cory Joseph hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat the home team 84-82. This was especially crushing as the Wizards were outscored 22-14 in the fourth quarter, and were up three with 5 seconds left before bailing out DeRozan with a foul. As crushing as the clip of Joseph hitting that three pointer is, the play-by-play is just as astounding.
If there is a shining light in this seemingly dark as all hell spot the Wizards find themselves in, we can take solace in the fact that this team has gone through many similar stretches the past two seasons, each of which finished in a trip to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In 2013 the Wizards started 2-7 before righting the ship, and last season the Wizards came out of the All-Star break with a 3-12 record in their next 15 games. This stretch included losses to the Timberwolves and 76ers, two of the three worst teams in the league record wise. In that case the team had already gotten out to a strong enough start to stay among the top 5 teams in the conference. This year the Wizards sit in 12th place in an improved conference, and because of the prevalence the team has for these poor stretches they can’t afford to keep losing games at this rate. Keep in mind as well that the Wizards won’t play their first road game against the Western Conference until Friday, December 11th here in New Orleans. This will mark game two of five straight against teams in the Southwestern Division, all of which made the playoffs last year.
Usually a week featuring a matchup with King James would feature a lot of excitement for the game, but this week it’s all about the Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant. On Sunday, Bryant announced that this season would be his last in the NBA, and Wednesday’s game will mark Kobe’s final game in Verizon Center, assuming he plays in what will be a back-to-back after a Tuesday visit to his hometown of Philadelphia.
We did a full goodbye to Kobe yesterday, and below are some of his best highlights in games against the Wizards during his career, and him eating my all-time favorite McDonald’s Burger, The Big N’ Tasty (rip)
55 points, final game against MJ
Triple Double against MJ the year before in a 20 point comeback
45 Points in Arenas’ 60 point game
This Week’s Matchups
Tuesday @ Cavaliers (13-4)
Tuesday is the first game of the season against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wizards won just one of the four meetings last year, and in the 2 losses that both teams played their starters Washington was outscored by 64 points. Notable injuries for this game include Nene and Gary Neal for Washington, while Cleveland will be without point guard Kyrie Irving, who has missed the start of the season recovering from knee surgery. As mentioned earlier the Cavaliers are 9-0 at home this season, but have had some close games in recent weeks, including sneaking by on a two point win courtesy of a picturesque hook shot by LeBron.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about Cleveland not having its normal mental toughness on the court and in the team’s preparation. Lebron has banned hoverboards, told his teammates how to dress, and is beginning to take control of the team the way Pat Riley did for him in Miami. It seems a little much for a team that is first in the conference without its All-Star point guard, and is seemingly destined to make the Finals. But Lebron has learned through all the big losses he has endured that even the smallest of decline in preparation can have a big effect. The Cavs are 5-3 in their last 8 games losing to Milwaukee, Detroit, and Toronto, and LeBron is beginning to return to his role as player-coach (and GM).
The Wizards should be happy to return to the court after the putrid showings of last week, although the quotes after Saturday’s loss lead me to believe the opposite.
Gortat is really struggling without as much emphasis on pick and rolls in the new offense. Hopefully Wittman put’s a little more emphasis on the 1-5 PNR as this benefits Wall, Gortat, and the entire Wizards offense. It’s beginning to appear that the team is close to “players only meeting” status and I can’t say I’d be concerned if that happened. Washington can continue to preach defense and fast pace, but in basketball the players are asked to perform on offense and defense, and the Wizards just haven’t been able to put together solid efforts on both sides of the ball many times this season. The Wizards of the last two seasons weren’t beating teams purely off of talent or coaching systems, they brought great effort in most games, and got production from many different sources across the roster. As much as I want to see the Wizards get back to rebounding, and strong team defense, the personnel and system seem to show that may not be near. 14 games in the Wizards have zero All-Star level players and have given mediocre effort in almost all their losses. This game I’m looking for John Wall to return to the All-Star level that make him a joy to watch, and gives Washington their best chance to win.
Wednesday vs. Lakers (2-14)
The final game in Washington for one of the greatest players in NBA history, is the Wizards best chance at winning a game this week by far. The Lakers have lost 10 of their last 11 games, and will be on the back-end of a back-to-back with the win-starved Philadephia 76ers, who have given it their all in recent games.
The Lakers are third-worst in the league in offensive rating and second to last in defensive rating. Combine that with a league worst 41% field goal percentage on the season and you can see why the Lakers have only won two games. They’re starting a rookie point guard in D’angelo Russell and second year players at shooting guard and power forward. We know Kobe will take his shots, but unlike previous years that is not really a bad thing as he is shooting just 30.5% from the field this season. As this is a back-to-back he may play limited minutes which will give way for LA’s young core to take the court together. The Lakers do have players who can put up points quickly including bench players Louis Williams and former Wizard Nick Young. Guard Jordan Clarkson should force his hand early playing against Washington, which traded him for $3 million during the draft last year. He leads the Lakers with 15.5 points per game and 43% shooting from three-point range.
Hopefully the energy in Verizon Center is strong and in favor of the home team, but Laker fans will surely be aplenty in what will be Kobe’s last game in DC. Last time the Lakers came to town the Wizards played a great game and dropped highlights all over the place.
Friday vs. Suns (8-9)
Friday the Phoenix Suns come to town, bringing their backcourt that includes Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, two of four players in the backcourt from the University of Kentucky. Coming into Tuesday the Suns are in 8th place in the Western Conference with impressive wins over the Raptors and Clippers. Phoenix may be without starting center Tyson Chandler as he recovers from a sore hamstring. Either way University of Maryland product Alex Len, the 5th overall pick in 2013, will be ready to man the middle. Phoenix is seventh-worst in the league in defensive rating, allowing .2 more points per 100 possessions than Washington. Meanwhile, the Wizards will need to bring their A-game on defense as Phoenix is third in the league in three-point field goal percentage, shooting 39.3% on the year. Phoenix has six players shooting at least 39%, and that’s not including PJ Tucker and Markeiff Morris who Last season the Suns made a few questionable moves trading away both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas and bringing in restricted free-agent Brandon Knight whose NBA career had been filled with promise and hilarity.
But don’t let the vines fool you, Knight has been great for Phoenix this year. This should be an exciting game in the backcourt as both teams play a fastbreak pace and Phoenix guards Knight and Eric Bledsoe average 21.5 and 22.6 points respeectively. Both have been very impressive early in the year. Knight has increased his scoring by 8 points per game versus his eleven games on the team last year, and had his first career triple double earlier this year in a 30 point, 15 assist, and 10 rebound effort against the Lakers. Bledsoe has increased his scoring by 5.6 points per game since last year, and is leading the team in points, assists, steals, blocks, and free throws made.
Wall really struggled in the two games against Phoenix last year, averaging just 12.5 points and 4 turnovers on 32% shooting. Eric Bledsoe, while only 6’1″ is one of the stronger point guards in the league and is almost just as quick as John. Hopefully the matchup with against his fellow Kentucky alumni brings out the best in his game.
Sunday vs. Mavericks (10-8)
It’s Dallas week here in Washington. On Sunday the Wizards host the Mavericks, one day before the Redskins host the Cowboys. The Mavericks, led by the NBA’s sixth all-time leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki, are surprisingly sixth in the West, but have lost four of their last five games after a 9-4 start. As they seemingly always do, Dallas reloaded the roster this year, bringing in three new starters. Chandler Parson’s slow return from offseason knee surgery has hurt the team as they look for a versatile player that can run the offense. Instead they’re currently entrusting that role to Deron Williams and JJ Barea. Dirk has been his reliable self averaging 16.9 points on 12.5 shots per game and 46.6% shooting from three-point range.
The Mavericks seem to be cooling off after the fast start in which they played the Lakers twice, Philadelphia, and an undermanned and struggling Pelicans team. Washington’s backcourt of Wall and Beal will hopefully feast on Dallas rotation of Deron Williams, Wes Matthews who’s coming off of a torn achilles, JJ Barea and Raymond Felton. As is always the case Dirk will be a tough matchup for Washington, but the Wizards should have a favorable matchup at the other positions.
Lastly, Sunday will also be the third return to Verizon Center for Javale McGee. Although Brandon Knight may not provide any bloopers on Friday, we know Javale will pull through on Sunday.
Kobe is averaging 25.6 in 30 career games against the Wizards, and since his rookie year in 1996, his team is 22-13 against Washington. Shoutout to Gilbert Arenas for leading the team in one of the most memorable of those wins, dropping 60 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on Kobe Bean Bryant, in a game that was 10 years ago this month.
Also, never forget.