We’re back to .500! The Wizards go into the last week of 2015 on a four game win streak against Charlotte, Sacramento, Memphis, and Brooklyn. The smallest margin of victory during this streak is 8 and it’s been especially impressive as the team has played between seven and ten players during this streak with the injuries still sky-high. The NBA recognized Marcin Gortat as Eastern Conference player of the week and the team moved under 20 in ESPN’s power rankings for the first time this month.
Otto Porter returned to the lineup on Saturday against the Nets and helped to provide much-needed depth off the bench. Rookie Kelly Oubre has stepped into a starting small forward role and been impressive over the last two weeks with the injuries to Beal and Porter. Even with Porter back healthy, it doesn’t seem coach Randy Wittman is eager to change-up the lineup immediately.
In his last 5 games, playing 26.4 minutes, Oubre is averaging 11.2 points and 5.4 rebounds, shooting 51.4% from the field and 58.8% from 3, hitting 2 three pointers per game. Before the Nets game, Oubre had gone three straight games going 2-2 from behind the three-point line.
This is a stark comparison to Porter, who has struggled shooting the three all season. Oubre still needs to improve on defense as he has been in foul trouble basically every game he’s played significant minutes, but that’s to be expected early in the career of an NBA player. Even outside of the hot shooting Oubre has been making plays on both ends of the ball and has been a significant reason the team is on a 4 game win streak.
The whole team has really stepped up recently and I have to highlight the last 5 games for the other starters as well.
We shouldn’t expect this level of play to continue for too long, but it’s great to see the team trending upward as the players get healthier. Nene and Drew Gooden are expected back within the week, but Bradley Beal is at least a week from contact practices and Alan Anderson is out for at least another three weeks. In the meantime, the players we didn’t expect much from are playing well, including rookie Jarell Eddie, signed to the team last Wednesday, who helped turn the Nets game from a two point lead to a fifteen point win. Eddie played all 12 minutes in the 4th quarter and went 4-4 from three in the period. This week the Wiz have 4 games, hosting the Clippers, heading to Toronto, before finishing the week with home games against the Magic and Heat. All four games this week will be against teams at least four games over .500 and will be another significant test for Washington. For Monday’s game, the Clippers will be without star forward Blake Griffin who is out for at least 2 weeks with a torn quad.
Monday also marks the only trip this season to Washington for Paul Pierce. Pierce was an integral part of the Wizards’ team last season, so let’s take a look at some of the best and most anticipated “return games” in recent years. Hopefully Pierce will get a well deserved round of applause, and the Wiz can get a much-needed win to get above .500 for the first time since they were 6-5 on November 24.
Top Return Games
This Week’s Matchups
Monday vs. Clippers (18-13)
The Wizards’ reward for the four game win streak? Hosting the 4th place Los Angeles Clippers, who are just on the outside of the Western Conference’s elite. Unfortunately for LA and fans who paid to see the game in person, the Clippers will be without Blake Griffin for the matchup. Griffin has only missed one game this season, LAC’s last game, a win in Utah Saturday night. This will be game two of a four game road trip for the Clippers, and the second of four road games in six nights. 31 games in the Clippers are 8-7 on the road, and 8-8 against .500+ teams. Although 6-4 in the last 10 games, they haven’t performed well against the above average teams, and the latest ESPN Power Rankings took notice.
Without Griffin in the lineup Saturday, Doc Rivers inserted seldom used Josh Smith into the starting power forward position. He played 5 minutes and went 0-2 with 1 turnover. Reports indicate that Josh Smith will come off the bench Monday, and our old friend Paul Pierce will start at power forward, with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute holding his usual starting spot. Pierce had a season high 20 points on Saturday off the bench, including 5-7 shooting from three-point range. It’s been noted ever since the playoffs last year that Pierce is really best suited to play power forward at this stage of his career and the injury to Griffin allows him to fill that need. It will be interesting to watch him and Dudley square off as they have pretty similar games currently, shooting spot up threes and using slow old man moves when necessary.
In 29 games this season Pierce is actually only averaging 4.6 points, is shooting 32.6% from the field, and only has five games with more than 10 points. Part of his problem at least statistically, besides being asked to play more small forward, is he’s only playing 16.5 minutes. The Wiz should be able to effectively prepare in preparation of Pierce coming to town, it’ll just depend if they can execute.
Even without Griffin, Chris Paul is still an elite point guard, an underrated scorer, and should be ready to take a larger offensive role, as Blake missed 15 games last season. In two games last season center Deandre Jordan averaged 10.5 points and 15.5 rebounds. Hopefully Gortat can continue his play against some of the best centers in the league this past week, by limiting the Clippers’ second chances and lobs to Jordan.
Last year John Wall shot just over 39% in the two meetings against the Clippers, and the on ball defense of Paul, along with the shot blocking abilities of Jordan limited Wall’s effectiveness. During this recent stretch Wall has put up large point and assist totals, but the team has also shown an ability to win and play well without great shooting from the #WALLSTAR. Washington has averaged 108 points in its last four games, meanwhile LAC has been an average team this season defending their opponents. This game could surely tilt either way, although WAS is currently tending up and LAC is trending down. One thing is for certain though. There will be free Chick-Fil-A in the District come Tuesday.
Wednesday @ Raptors (19-12)
Ahhh. Everyone’s favorite team north of the border. The Raptors sneaked by on a three pointer at the buzzer in DC in November, extending their regular season streak against Washington to four. This was a low scoring matchup with Toronto winning 84-82. Somehow the Wizards led by 3 with 10 seconds to go in a game in which they shot 32.9% from the field (meanwhile TOR shot 43.1%.) Washington did force 22 turnovers while only committing 14, and shot 27 free throws to Toronto’s 14. Unfortunately two missed free throws from John Wall with 6 seconds left doomed the Wizards as they’d only hold a one point lead going into the Raptors final possession. This was also a game Wall shot 6-25 in and the team was led offensively by Gortat and Beal, two of only three players to shoot above 50%. In fact, the Wiz played 9 guys and Kris Humphries had the only two field goals from the bench. We’ll be without Beal this go around, but Oubre, Sessions, and Garret Temple have done a great job filling in where necessary. In the November 28th matchup the team was also without key contributor Gary Neal and Jared Dudley was starting his 1st game with the team.
The Wizards have already managed wins on the road in Cleveland and Miami, and adding Toronto to the list will mean road victories against three of the top four teams in the East at the moment. Toronto is getting back to full strength as well, as Demarre Carroll is back from a few weeks out, and center Jonas Valanciunas should return by Wednesday from his own month-long absence. Toronto has been 4th best in the NBA when looking at offensive rating, and continue to play lineups with 3-4 three-point threats. They’re not an especially great shooting teams, but are 6th in least turnovers per game, and 4th in free throws attempted. Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan have been spectacular so far this season combining for 43.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 10.2 assists, and a PER of 43.9. The individual league average for PER is always 15. Washington held the duo to 43% shooting in the first meeting, but they still combined for 47 points and 7 three pointers, while attempting 54% of the teams shots. A strong offensive effort from Wall and the team’s other guards will force the Lowry and DeRozan to expend more energy on defense, hopefully limiting their lift on the offensive end. They say the 6 ain’t friendly, but the Wizards won the last two trips during the 2015 first round of the playoffs, and showed flashes that this pace of play can be Toronto’s kryptonite.
Friday vs. Magic (17-13)
The surprising Orlando Magic are currently 8th in the stacked Eastern Conference, ahead of popular young teams Charlotte and Detroit. The Magic have largely beaten the teams they’re supposed to, with the only eye-catching wins being over Houston, Boston, and Toronto. This will be the third of four season matchups, and the only real change since the last matchup is a recent switch in the starting lineup. Magic coach Scott Skiles moved Dematha product Victor p to the bench, adding additional size, by plugging in Channing Frye at power forward and moving Tobias Harris to small forward. Oladipo has now played 16 (of 28) games off the bench, and is averaging almost identical stats in six less minutes per game. The Magic are 11-5 since the switch (6-8 before) and have enjoyed consistent play from their starting lineup, including almost 17 points and 9 rebounds from Nikola Vucevic.
The Wizards have taken care of the Magic in recent years, and I anticipate that continuing even with the changes in Orlando’s approach. We’ve done a great job containing their variety of guards and holding Vucevic to about his averages. Oubre and Porter will need to make sure they contain Tobias Harris who can drop 30 points routinely, with his mix of inside and outside scoring, and quick cuts to the hoop.
Sunday vs. Heat (18-11)
One of the Wizards’ more impressive wins this season. It wasn’t without controversy though. The officials blew a call late in the game that helped the Wiz extend a two point lead to five with 1:09 left in the game. Miami comes into the week #3 in the conference, but have benefitted from a favorable schedule to start the year. The Heat have played 19 of its first 29 games at home, and are 5-5 on the road this season. The Wizards host the Heat twice in the next three weeks and this game will be on the front-end of a back-to-back.
The first game between the two saw the Wizards win a game in which the Heat shot 59.4% from the floor. The Wiz won by 11 in part because they won the turnover battle by six, hit four more three pointers, and had 12 offensive rebounds. For as much has been made of the ridiculous stats that Hassan Whiteside has put up, he has had some trouble playing enough minutes for the Heat to make a true difference, because of a mix of boneheadedness, foul trouble, and free throw shooting struggles. In game 1 Whiteside was 7-7 from the floor, but only played 23 minutes. Against Washington’s small three-point shooting lineup, Spoelstra preferred to not play Bosh and Whiteside side by side much, limiting Whiteside’s effectiveness. Being without Beal shouldn’t have much effect on defense as Dwayne Wade has torched the Wizards routinely this season and last. The Wizards will have to make adjustments however, because although the Heat play one of the slowest paces in the league, Washington can’t afford to let Miami shoot so well from the floor again. Usually Washington makes up for poor shooting by getting more possessions through offensive rebounds and steals, but it’s not exactly what you want to rely on. Miami is 5-10 this season when they lose the rebounding battle, so hopefully the Wizards can battle on the boards. In game 1 Otto Porter had a game high 14 rebounds and his hustle on offense and defense is one of his most beneficial traits. Luol Deng, while still a solid on ball defender does not excel in off ball guarding and those patented cuts from Porter should be available. Games between these two teams have been very exciting since Lebron’s departure and this looks like another game to keep an eye on, even with it falling during the NFL’s Week 17.
Everyone hit John Wall with a #NBAVote. Retweets count!