The Wizards head into Week 8 after another 2-2 week, with wins against the Heat and Mavericks, and losses to the Rockets and Pelicans. In addition to another .500 week, the Wizards lost Bradley Beal (again) to a leg injury that shows the “beginnings of a stress reaction” according to the team. Beal’s rookie year he missed the final two weeks of the season, and six weeks overall, with a stress injury to this right leg. Fast forward to his sophomore year and Beal missed nine games early in the season with a stress injury in his right foot. This past February, after already missing the first nine games of the season with a fracture in his left wrist, Beal missed eight games after tests for an injury to his big toe revealed a mild stress reaction in his problematic right leg. Now in his fourth year we find Beal with his 4th stress related injury to his right leg/foot, and this injury is something that will obviously hinder the Wizards ability to climb above .500 on the season, but may also potentially have lasting effects on Beal’s upcoming contract negotiations this summer. So yeah you can see how this latest injury is pretty problematic.
Good news is the Wizards are still only 2.5 games out of 8th place in the Eastern Conference and for the most part have shown improvements the last few weeks. It’s undoubtedly been led by John Wall, and players around him have stepped up here and there, including a career high 28 points from Otto Porter in Saturday’s win against Dallas.
Matchups against the Grizzlies and Spurs are looming, but this team has shown an uncanny ability to look like a #1 seed one game, and a top lottery team the next. The Wiz finish the week at home against division leader Charlotte, who will be without starting center Al Jefferson as he recovers from injury and a recent five game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug policy last week. The Spurs have had some of the best chemistry in the league in my lifetime, and maybe it’s from all the time they spend together shooting commercials for grocery Store HEB.
Gifts for Lamarcus
Stronger than Coyote
Before we get started with the matchups, I’ve highlighted some other classic NBA Commercials below
Gary Neal & Tiago Splitter
Lebron Swimming Pool
Lebron vs. Kobe
Basketball Hilarious’ Compilation
This Week’s Matchups
Monday @ Grizzlies (13-12)
Thinks aren’t so graceful in Graceland. 25 games in the Grizzlies sit at 13-12, good for 6th (of 15) in the West, but sport a -5.2 PPG differential (PPG-OPP PPG), which ranks 12th out of 15 in the conference. This disparity mainly comes from a 30 point loss to Cleveland in game 1, a 50 point loss to Golden State in game 4, and 24, 20, and 19 point losses to Charlotte, San Antonio, and Portland respectively. In fact, of their 12 losses, only two have been by less than 10 points. Memphis has lost four of its last 6 games, and rumblings have begun about the safety, or lack their of, of Memphis Coach Dave Joerger.
Even with things looking somewhat bleak for a team that has consistently been around 4-6 in the Western Conference, but never really made a serious playoff run, they’ve had some exciting, and lucky plays early this year to help keep them in the top eight. Their last two games were won on these two plays:
Looking at the Wizards game, the FedEx Forum will play host to a new small ball lineup for the Grizzlies. Long the slowest paced team in the league, Memphis will be moving immovable object Zach Randolph from starting power forward, to a somewhat diminished bench role. Randolph is currently shooting the third worst FG% of his career, and fourth lowest PPG since he entered the league in 2001. Things don’t get much better looking at starting point guard Mike Conley, who is an unrestricted free-agent after this season. Conley, 28, is shooting the worst FG% (40.2) of his career and the second worst three-point percentage (34.3) of his career. In seven December games, he’s actually been far worse than those numbers, shooting 34.2% from the field and 26.9% from three point range. The numbers should see an increase towards the mean as we get further into December, and should be at least partly influenced by the fact that four of the seven games in December that Memphis has played have been against four of the top defenses in the league according to opponents points allowed.
In place of Zach Randolph, Jeff Green will start at power forward and look to stretch the floor against Jared Dudley. As with the last few years, the offense still runs through center Marc Gasol, who is actually in the middle of his best stretch of the season in December, while the key parts around him struggle. In seven games this month, Gasol is averaging 19.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.9 blocks, on 51% shooting.
Even with a smaller lineup, the Griz will still play plenty of slow-paced basketball, and the Wizards actually fared well against Miami last week, which ranks 27th (of 30) in the league in pace, three spots below Memphis. Pace measures the number of possessions per 48 minutes for a team. For a high turnover team like Washington, playing slow paced teams means that turnovers are usually less likely to result in easy fastbreak points.
Conley is usually regarded as a good defender at the point guard position, but this season has left more to be desired. Among shots by opposing players within 10 feet of the basket players are shooting almost 12% better when being guarded by Conley so far this season. Wall has consistently played well against Memphis and hopefully this will continue as he is in the midst of his fantastic start to the month. Last year Wall averaged 19.5 points and 10 assists while shooting 57% from the field, and three years ago scored his career high of 47 points against the Grizzlies. Two games left on the road trip, and hopefully the Wizards can stay focused as they wrap up the trip through the Southwest.
Also, what did the five fingers say to the face?
Wednesday @ Spurs (20-5)
Wednesday the Wizards head into San Antonio to finish the season series against the new look spurs, who have been one of the best stories of the season. Because of the well-deserved commotion for the Warriors, not much has been made of the tremendous season the Spurs have put together so far, finding themselves only four games out of first place. Like the Cavaliers two weeks ago, the Spurs are undefeated at home, having notched twelve wins at the AT&T Center to start the year. As expected when four-time All-Star Lamarcus Aldridge joined the team, the Spurs are one of the top offensive teams, currently ranked fourth in offensive rating. What’s made San Antonio so difficult to beat has been their play on defense though. They’re first in defensive rating, only allowing 91.9 points per 100 possessions, which is almost five points better than the Miami Heat, ranking second allowing 96.7. This mastery of both offense and defense leaves San Antonio with a net rating of 12.7, only two points below the 24-1 Golden State Warriors.
While the talk of the offseason was the acquisition of Aldridge, the in-season talk has been all about the complete play of small forward Kawhi Leonard. Already owning Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year trophies, Leonard has vastly improved on offense this season. Since last season his PPG has improved from 16.5 to 20.7, FG% from 47.9% to 50.3%, 3FG% from 34.9% to 48.3%, and PER from 22.09 to 26.83. In fact after seven weeks, Leonard is currently first in the league in three-point percentage, which is staggering considering some of the quotes about his offensive weaknesses coming into the 2011 NBA Draft. We’re not the only ones shocked by Leonard’s hot shooting. The Big Fundamental Tim Duncan has been pleasantly surprised as well.
The Wizards won game one of the season series in Washington, but will obviously struggle without Bradley Beal, who hit the game winning three-pointer the first time around. Washington was out rebounded 48-33 but managed to only turn the ball over ten times, which helped them outscore the Spurs 36-26 in the fourth quarter. The Spurs size will surely cause issues for the undersized front line of Washington, and there’s no one on the Spurs roster that the team can really help off of. Beal paced the team with 25 back in November, but Otto Porter had one of his better games of the season, pouring in 8-10 shots for 19 points. Whether they want to or not the Wizards will surely have to play bigger as they match up against the lineup of Aldridge, Duncan, David West, and 7’3″ Boban Marjanovic. The Wizards have surprised me in almost every game this year so I wouldn’t be shocked if Porter had another big game or if the Spurs ran away with the game in the first half.
Saturday vs. Hornets (14-11)
Saturday is throwback night in DC as the team honor Wizards/Bullets alumni and wear the new Bullets themed sleeved jerseys. Back at home after the four game Southwest road trip, the Wizards look to avenge possibly the most embarrassing loss of the season from November 25, in a game the Wizards had a six point fourth quarter. It’s hard to use any stats from that game because of how much of an anomaly it was. Instead, we’ll look at how the Hornets have fared in their last five games as they lead the Southeast division. Before their loss to Boston on Saturday, Charlotte had won four straight games against Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Memphis. The last three wins were by a minimum of 19 points and showed Charlotte’s ability to hold opponents under 99 points and score 120+ points, as they did in Memphis.
Without Jefferson available the Hornets have started Zeller and brought rookie Frank Kaminsky and veteran big Spencer Hawes off the bench, Kaminsky has been impressive in this increase in minutes, averaging 8 points and 4.5 rebounds in December, while shooting 50% from the floor and 46% from the three point line. In December Kaminsky has had a +/- average of above 5, and is fitting in well to the stretch 4/5 movement. Another new addition who is flourishing is guard Jeremy Lin. Even with starting point guard Kemba Walker playing well this season, Lin has managed to hover around 25 minutes on most nights. His averages and percentages haven’t been great, but he’s done a better job moving the ball and keeping all five players involved on offense. In the six games in December, Lin is averaging a +/- of 7.7, three points higher than his yearly average. He’s done all of this while looking absolutely ridiculous and must be crushing the confidence of his opponents.
In yet another year where it looked like Washington could challenge for 1st place in the division, along with Miami and Atlanta, it has instead been Charlotte and Miami pacing the Southeast. Charlotte is currently 5th best in OffRtg and 6th best in DefRtg, leading to surprisingly difficult matchup for the Wiz. In addition, this year’s team has moved toward the league trend of pace and space, playing a four out, one in lineup, and ranking fourth in the NBA with 10 made 3’s per game.
Before the previous matchup I pointed out the inabilities offensively of many Hornets’ players including guard Jeremy Lamb. He proceeded to score 18 points and grab 7 rebounds in 32 minutes. This led some(one) to refer to him as a poor man’s Kevin Durant, and while he’s more similar to a poor man’s CJ Miles, I won’t go out and underrate anyone on the team this time around as it’s obvious 25 games in that the Hornets are the better team currently. This game marks the start of a three game homestand against CHA, Sacramento, and Memphis, which gives the Wizards a chance to reach .500 before the start of the New Year. Hopefully the Bullets can provide some good luck.