Anyone who expected the Wizards to win tonight, or frankly, even compete, can be rest assured that miracles don’t always happen, and they occur even less frequently at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Washington limped and crawled their way into Oklahoma City for game against the Thunder that would’ve likely been a lost cause with a full lineup. Take out Nene, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster (three starters), Trevor Ariza, AJ Price (first two off the bench), and Jason Collins (lead chest bumper), throw in an absolutely fatigued John Wall and Emeka Okafor, sprinkle in an opponent that sports two of the league’s top six scorers and you have a recipe where disaster would actually have been a success. Washington stayed somewhat competitive through the first half, ending the 2nd quarter down by single digits. But the Thunder came out from the break and blew the cap off this game, ending the Wizards’ misery with a 103-80 victory.
Coming into the game, all eyes in DC were admittedly on Mr. John Wall. Everyone from Falls Church to Frederick wanted to know what the encore would be. How would he respond after throwing up a 47/8/7 against Memphis and receiving glorious praise from all those critics that usually make him a punching bag? What would be the shape of his body and mind after logging 44 grueling minutes, and expecting an equal workload in this one? And could he matchup with Russell Westbrook, an elite PG who represents a potential best case scenario for Wall? Overall, the numbers were decent on the very outer surface (18 points, 12 assists, 4 rebounds), but even a slight deep dive showed that it was a true struggle from start to finish. Wall shot a ghastly 3-18 from the field, and was a -19 on the court. The jump shot that looked so pure on Monday night kept falling a bit short all game (clearly a product of understandable fatigue). He found his teammates for open shots, but when the alleged sharpshooters are really defensive stoppers (Garrett Temple, Chris Singleton) a 23 point loss is exactly what you can expect. I’ll spare Wall any type of feedback on tonight’s performance, but one thing I would’ve loved to see from him was more time guarding Westbrook. We all know about Wall’s on again/off again defensive effort, but for those of us who read Gary Payton’s quote in Grantland this week, it’s very encouraging to see him take an active interest in playing great defense. Hopefully he will begin picking up the opponent’s top offensive assignment more often.
On the whole as I mentioned above, it was nearly impossible to come out of tonight’s game victorious. The Thunder is now 32-5 at home, and the Wizards counter with a 7-28 road mark. Oklahoma City has one of the best home court advantages in the league and when they start heating up on with those great fans behind their backs, there are few teams in the league that can keep up. After shooting 21% from 3 point land in the previous 5 games, the Thunder was accurate from deep, shooting 8/14 and made a living at the free throw line, hitting an unreal 37/41 from the charity stripe. At times, it seemed like they (especially Durant and Westbrook) seemed to switch it to cruise control, but with that kind efficiency when the shots did go up, not much else was needed to beat this depleted Wizards squad. Right now, OKC is looking way past a March 27th matchup vs. Washington and has things to accomplish in May and June but they still took care of business and did so without heavy exertion. But although they can now focus on a championship run, this was once a team that started 3-29 start and appeared headed for a perennial lottery position. Washington’s solace tonight is hoping their fate goes on a similar path. No, the roster doesn’t contain a certain K. Durant, but miracles can happen, right?
See below for some additional observations from tonight’s contest:
•Wall obviously struggled from the field, but it was a positive to see him get to the line early and often. Yes, it’s true that he may be the beneficiary of more ‘star’ calls from officials, but Wall is no stranger to the free throw line (he finished 7th in the NBA last season in FTs made). I believe a key change is the room that he has to operate in the lane. Lately, with either Nene or Okafor being out of the lineup, Wall has a ton more room to operate down low. Adding in a stretch 4 instead of two players who have bought condos on the low block gives him a lane to the rim and his speed is too much for overwhelmed defenders.
•I know the Wizards have enough injuries/illnesses to film a few episodes of House but the roster has to contain more players that can make a jump shot. The team shot 32% overall, highlighted by Singleton (3-12), Seraphin (6-14), Okafor (2-9), and Martin (3-9). In other news, Jan Vesely scored 2 points and was a +3 on the court so what the hell do I know (No, really – this needs to be addressed in the offseason).
•This was the Wizards’ biggest loss since a 28 point shellacking at the hands of the Heat on January 6th, and I honestly believe it was almost by design. Washington has a couple cushy games this weekend to get wins (Orlando, Toronto) and there was almost no reason to kill themselves in a game that was over before it tipped off.
•Russell Westbrook picking up random technicals when team is up by 20 points = very humorous.