With the Wizards approaching the 3/4 mark of the season, have they finally made the changes necessary to make a last ditch playoff run? The answer is complicated. The Wizards have had an overall solid stretch post All-Star break, having won 5 of their last 7 games. The wins have all been great, but as we’ve wished all season, these games had a sense of games the team SHOULD win. Losses to the Jazz, Pistons, Pelicans, and 76ers would have seemed crushing. Washington needed to play like a desperate team, and for the most part that is what they have done. The defense and rebounding have improved, and the team has only given up 100 points twice in those 7 games post-break.
The issue is that with the “easiest” remaining schedule, there will be many games that they SHOULD win. Although the Wizards have improved, and are finally healthy (for the most part), they still are not a good enough team to play consistently and rip off five to seven straight games. The two losses post all-star break were games it seems the team should have won. One against a Miami team without All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, and a Chicago Bulls team without All-Star Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Nikola Mirotic, and Joakim Noah, three starters on opening night, and a former All-NBA center. We can make excuses for the Miami game, as it was game three of a three games in three nights stretch and the team was obviously winded. But losing by 20 was disconcerting. As with many past iterations of this team, they seemingly looked past a weak and undermanned team during both of the most recent losses. Getting over this tradition will be key down the stretch, with the “easy” schedule coming up. Looking at the remaining schedule, the Wizards’ opponents have a combined record of 630-789 (.443), a very similar win% to the Orlando Magic.
Hopefully, the Wiz have made improvements overlooking weakened opponents, as they beat a Cavaliers team without LeBron James on Sunday afternoon by 14, in a game that was not that close. Washington plays the 76ers and Timberwolves the next two games, and at this point not heading into Friday’s Cavaliers game 30-30 would remove any positives from the last two weeks. Among other notes that may signal the team is changing its bad habits: The Wizards have won five straight home games, being 10-16 at home before this streak. Wednesday’s game against the Wolves will mark Washington’s first trip to Minnesota since former Wizards/Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders passed away in October 2015.
Even though I’d love to have seen Washington win their last 7 games, a 5-2 recorded is a great start, and it’s pretty apparent that the team has improved its play and understands the urgency with which they need to play with only 24 games left, and the team two games behind Chicago for the 8th seed in the playoffs. They say defense wins championships, which while a little old-school (see Golden State), still rings true. Check out Otto Porter’s block on Kevin Love, a defining moment in yesterday’s blowout home win.
In addition to the vicious block, Porter showed great shooting abilities of his own in the third quarter when he hit four three pointers, 3-in-a-row, en route to a 15 point quarter.
Speaking of hot shooting from 3, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the hot shooting by Steph Curry Saturday night in Oklahoma City, in a game the Warriors really didn’t have much business winning. They were out rebounded 62-32, shot 68% from the FT line (including 2 Curry misses), only got two three pointers from someone not named Steph Curry, led for something like 29 seconds and according to the Play-by-Play missed five layups in the 4th Qtr/OT, with at least four being wide open. Curry, as was the case much of the week, willed the Warriors to the win, shooting 12-16 from 3, and making some of the most absurd threes of the season look routine, including the game winner seen ’round the world.
Below the game highlights, all 12 threes, and Curry’s best three pointers of the season
Today is leap day, which happens once every four years, so we’ll take a quick look at some of the most remarkable leaps by the league’s greats.
This Week’s Matchups
Monday vs. 76ers (8-51)
The first game of the week brings Philadelphia to DC looking to avenge the loss in Philly on Friday. The 76ers, even with improved play since the arrival of Ish Smith are still a mess. In 59 games Philly has managed to only beat one team (Portland) that is top 10 in its conference at the moment (the Wiz are 10th in the East). After a win over Phoenix to get to 7-39, Philly has lost 11 of its last 12 games, and the young team has to be looking ahead to April 15th to begin its offseason and get away from basketball for awhile.
The 76ers did manage to only lose to Washington by 9 on Friday, and got solid efforts from Robert Covington, Jahlil Okafor and Smith. In fact, the Wiz were down by 4 at halftime and only shot 42%. Washington managed to win the game by playing great defense in the second half, and shooting 16-17 (94.1%) on free throws, somewhere they’ve struggled this season, currently ranking 22nd in FT% (74.4%).
Key contributors for Washington include John Wall (23 pts, 8 rbs, 11 assists), Jared Dudley (4-6 from 3pt), and Nene (9pts, 8rbs, +17 in 22 minutes).
Last Note: Philly fans have interesting chants for the Wiz
Scheduling: 3/17 @ Philly
Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images
Wednesday @ Minnesota (19-41)
The only team Washington has not played yet hosts our squad Wednesday night, with a probably chance for the Wizards to return to .500. Washington hasn’t been .500 since January 15th after a win at Indiana, and only twice since November 25th when the team was 6-6. Minnesota has a solid young nucleus of Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins. Although sporting a 31.6 win%, the Timberwolves have won 5 of their last 10 games, and also interestingly started the season 8-8. Outside of these two stretches (13-13), the team is 6-28. Even with the dismal record, this is not a team Washington can look past, as would be understandable with a trip to Cleveland looming Friday. Impressive Minnesota wins include:
- Atlanta (2x)
- Chicago (2x)
- Los Angeles Clippers
The Timberwolves are well on their way to back-to-back rookies of the year, with center Towns posting excellent numbers, one year after Andrew Wiggins took home the ROY award. Towns is averaging 17.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 82% FT shooting. His last 10 games (with that 5-5 record), he has upped those numbers to 21.8 points and 12 rebounds. Wiggins, in his 2nd season, has upped his scoring from 16.9 pts to 20.7 pts, and he and Towns continue to be called upon by the coaches to lead the team offensively and defensively. NBA writers have recently compared the team to the young Thunder team of 2008-2009 that went 23-59, before posting a string of four 50 win seasons in five seasons.
The things Towns can do as a center are truly remarkable. He’s got speed, solid ball-handling, great length and defensive instincts, and can stretch his shot out to the three point line. He’s shown it all off with highlight reel plays, and by winning the Skills Competition at the All-Star break.
Washington will surely focus its defensive efforts on these two young studs, and Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter will need to be on their A-game to limit the young Timberwolves explosiveness. Minnesota averages the 9th most turnovers in the league, so hopefully Washington can take advantage with a barrage of fastbreak points.
Last Note: The Timberwolves recently shuffled the starting lineup to add Gorgui Dieng, and this new starting lineup currently has the best offensive rating among lineups with at least 170 minutes together.
Scheduling: 3/25 vs. Timberwolves
Friday @ Cleveland (41-17)
Apparently Cleveland saw Washington as the perfect team for their best player and MVP to sit out, as the playoffs creep up and they look to give King James rest before the long “second season. Unfortunately for Cleveland the rest of the team didn’t show up Sunday afternoon in Washington. It has been said recently that teams struggle to play in DC on Sunday matinees because of all that is available to do Saturdays in the District. I’m not sure if I believe this with the Wizards 0-2 in Sunday games before yesterday, but it’s an interesting theory I hope becomes true with Washington having a Sunday 1PM start against Charlotte in the third to last game of the season.
Anyway, it’s hard to take too much out of a game that LeBron didn’t play in, but Washington should feel confident heading into Cleveland on Friday, having won two of the three matchups so far this season, and handing the Cavs their first home loss of the season back on December 1st. Cleveland is in seeming disarray at this stage, having lost 3 of its last 4 games. Guard JR Smith is “concerned” about the teams play, Kyrie Irving reportedly wants out of Cleveland (via Stephen A Smith so take with a grain of salt), and Kevin Love still stinks on this team. Also of note is Cleveland’s record with Tyronn Lue as head coach (11-6) as opposed to its record with vilified David Blatt running the ship (30-11).
Sunday, the Wizards led by as many as 30 points in the third quarter, and got great games from Wall (21 points, 7 rbs, 13 assists, in 29 minutes), Porter (21 points, 6-9 3PM, 15 points in 3rd qtr), and Beal (17 points, 50% shooting). Friday’s game will certainly have a different feel, and will be on ESPN, so expect LeBron to rally the troops for the national audience.
Last Note: Cleveland plays Monday night before not playing again until Friday’s game so expect LeBron to be well rested.
Saturday vs. Pacers (31-28)
The Wizards end the week with the third and final meeting against the 6th seeded Indiana Pacers. Indiana, 5-5 in its last 10 games, has lost two straight games and three of its last four games. One factor for the losing stretch is the Pacers shooting woes. The last three losses include 39% shooting against Miami in a game that the Pacers wasted 31 points from Paul George, 41% against Charlotte, wasting 32 points from PG, and 43% against Portland on Sunday. In that Miami game the starting backcourt of George Hill and Monta Ellis combined to shoot 2-27 from the field (0-7 for Hill). In the Charlotte game those two combined to shoot 7-26 (3-13 for Hill), and in the Portland game they shot 10-27 (6-17 for Ellis). Wall has struggled in the past to guard Hill, hopefully the reintroduction of positive defensive play will continue and Washington can keep these struggling guards from getting hot.
Positives for Indiana include the play of Paul George and Myles Turner. George has been his normal All-Star self, averaging 25 pts, 7 rbs, and 5 assists in his last 10, while Turner has quickly made a case to be recognized as the second best player on the team. Turner is averaging 14 and 7 in his 14 games as a starter, compiling an array of moves and positive qualities. Post All-Star Turner is averaging 13 shots a game, third on the team, behind George and Ellis, and shooting 14% better than Ellis in that stretch.
Washington, 1-1 in the season series, will look to continue on its efforts from January 15th, when the team beat the Pacers in Indy by 14 points, 118-104. In that game wall led the way with 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists, while being the only starter to score double figures. This game occurred during the stretch the Wizards played without Beal, Gortat, and Porter, meaning the Wiz started Wall-Temple-Oubre-Dudley-Nene, not exactly an intimidating lineup for the opposition. Even without three starters Washington managed to play its brand of ball, making 11 three pointers and shooting 52% from the field. This game really turned in the second quarter when Washington outscored Indiana 35-19. Another key was the Pacers shooting a woeful 3-17 (17.6%) from 3, after shooting 19-26 (73.1%) from behind the arc in the first meeting.
Washington is getting healthy, with only Gary Neal (leg) and Anderson (rest) missing time to start the week, and its coming at a great time. Washington will have to travel home to face the Pacers 24 hours after playing in Cleveland in what is sure to be a real test. Washington is 4-10 in games on the second night of a back-to-back, and Saturday it will be tough to get to five wins in that department. According to ESPN’s Basketball Index, the Wiz only have an 8% chance to make the playoffs, but a win against a solid Pacers team would go a long way towards improving that chance.
Last Note: Indiana has given up at least 20 points to the opposing point guard in four straight games, and six of its last seven, including 33 to Damian Lillard, and an astounding 20 to Jose Calderon.
Brandon Knight always seems to make a blooper reel. Check out his contender for best leap.