Jan 25, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio (9) dribbles the ball as Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) defends in the fourth quarter at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 114-101. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Go Cold in Minnesota Winter

The Wizards came into tonight’s game vs. the Timberwolves presumably confident.  Although star rookie Bradley Beal suffered an ankle sprain in Sunday’s win over the 76ers, they still managed to hold on with some big plays down the stretch and were playing a team in this game that made Washington’s injury woes seem like the equivalent of a paper cut.  With Minnesota down Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko (aka their entire starting front line and the reason that anyone in the city remembers they have a team), things were set up for a successful outing.  Unfortunately, no one gave the Wizards the memo that these are the types of games that ‘playoff’ teams take care of.  Turnovers galore marred the flow for all four quarters and even when it looked like the Wizards would take care of business, their lackadaisical play brought the Wolves right back into the action.  By the time Ariza threw up an insane fade away three with 15 seconds left in the game, the Wizards were checked out and already headed back to DC.  Hopefully they’ll cheer up when they find out the snowquester wasn’t as bad as anticipated.

Beal’s absence was noticeable, as the Wizards could not seem to find a rhythm offensively and struggled to knock down open looks (a strength of Bradley’s, I hear).  John Wall stepped up in a big way for three quarters, and carried the offense while also serving as a harassing presence on the defensive side of the ball.  But his six costly turnovers, as well as a substantially cooled jump shot proved critical in the game’s winding moments.  He needs to continue to improve his ball handling skills, as well as his decision making about when to drive, when to pull up, and when to look for the open man.  Wall should look no further than his counterpart tonight about how to affect a game in other ways when the jumper isn’t falling.  Ricky Rubio is adept at getting his teammates involved and putting pressure on the defense by attacking the basket and he put on his best Rajon Rondo impression by stuffing the stat sheet across the board.

A large reason for why Washington let the game slip away lies in an issue they’ve had all season.  The Wizards don’t know what they are offensively.  Are they a team that sets up Okafor and Nene on each low block and pounds teams into submission?  Or are they a team that thrives on the slash and kick game, led by Wall at the helm and with shooters in Beal, Webster, and Ariza (occasionally…) ready to make defenses pay?  This indecisiveness leads to a lot of confusion offensively because certain sets are designed for playing one style, and others indicate a schematic change.  This can lead to forced hook shots from Okafor or misguided isolation plays for Nene (I’m told he needs his space to properly commit offensive fouls).  I believe that with the addition of another perimeter player this summer; either through draft or free agency, and another year of maturity for Beal and Wall, we’ll gravitate towards the latter.  But as this year plays out and the roster is evaluated, we may find ourselves in similar predicaments of how we want to put the ball in the basket.

See below for a couple key points that stood out to me during tonight’s game:

  • I loved the way John Wall played tonight on the defensive end.  I truly believe he has the athleticism to be one of the premiere defensive point guards in the league and he’s shown great instincts about going for blocks/steals in the past.  However, his activity has left a lot to be desired, as well as the general effort he showed on contesting shots, shuffling feet, etc.  Tonight he gave the impression that he was committed to making a difference and he did just that.  If this becomes a larger part of his game, he’ll have a greater impact on the game from a side of the court that many other top guards forget (See: Irving, Kyrie).
  •  Trevor Ariza has really proved that he continues to be a commodity in this league.  After a very cold first half of the year, Ariza has been lights out since the all-star break and is showing why the Rockets wanted to make him their small forward of the future after his title run with the Lakers.  He totaled strong numbers tonight with 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists and attractions attention with the way he crashes the glass and fights for loose balls.
  • I’ve written about this in the past, but I’m really struggling to accept that this offense can consistently run through Nene.  I believe he is a talented passer and can finish around the rim.  But the idea that he should have the ball down low while the rest of the team runs to the other side doesn’t sit well with me.  He’s shooting the worst percentage of his career this season and has had a lot of issues with turnovers (chipped in seven of those tonight).  And with Nene and Okafor both camped out down low, it is extremely difficult for Wall to attack the basket or find any room at all.
  • Randy Wittman ran his starters into the ground all night, and by the time the 4th quarter came around they had nothing left in the tank.  Although a total of 10 players saw game action, each of the starting 5 played between 33 and 42 minutes and the fatigue was quite evident.  It makes no sense to me why players like Booker, Singleton, or CARTIER MARTIN didn’t see more/any floor time but I think they could have provided a good spell for the main guys earlier in the game so fresh legs would be available when things got tight.

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