Just when it seemed like the Wizards would finally put away the pesky Bucks, up 102-97 with 55 seconds left in regulation, we were quickly reminded how much these two teams must like playing basketball against each other. Instead of a hard fought W, we saw Washington play their second overtime game in as many attempts versus Milwaukee and ultimately fall to the hapless Bucks, 109-105.
The game was marred by pre-existing injuries from both sides (Bradley Beal, Al Harrington, Larry Sanders, and Caron Butler were all inactive) as well as disappointing ones that took place tonight (both Martell Webster and Nene left the game prematurely with foot injuries). This is a Wizards team that is young and not accustomed to any type of sustained success. That was very evident tonight, as they failed time and again to keep the Bucks off the glass and offer any type of resistance to Milwaukee’s torrid shooting from the perimeter. After the hoopla and joyousness that set in following the Wizards’ return to .500 and stranglehold on the #3 seed, Verizon Center faithful fell quickly back down to Earth. Losses like these are expected from a team learning how to win, but are nonetheless disappointing. Regardless of who was available tonight, this game was not the type Washington should be giving away. Taking care of business is half the battle in the putrid East so the Wizards must learn how to close teams out when it’s all over but the crying.
I could probably write an entire piece on John Wall’s brilliance and unbelievable effort from tonight (WALLBLOCK anyone?), but another one of equal length could be written on the disastrous situation of Washington’s bench. Although there was a clear need for the remaining starters to play heightened minutes once Webster and Nene went down, the fact that Wall could not get a single second of rest starting from the 3rd quarter until the last 30 seconds of overtime is a testament to how little faith Randy Wittman has in Eric Maynor. This is a situation that is sometimes joked about, but tonight simply cost the team a win. Wittman used a number of forwards to spell the starters but Wall and Trevor Ariza pretty much handled the entire backcourt duty, totaling 48 and 46 minutes respectively. Much of the stagnant offense the Wizards ran in the end of the 4th quarter and OT tied directly to Wall’s intense fatigue. Especially given his balls-to-the-wall style of play, the Wizards must find a suitable understudy for him or he’ll be the next on the growing list of players nursing various ailments.
As I mentioned before, despite the injuries, this was not a game that Washington should have lost, and was a performance it cannot repeat against other Eastern bottom feeders. The Bucks had dropped 13 of 14 and the Wizards were well rested, having last played in a blowout victory on Monday against Orlando. Clearly, Washington either overlooked this game or simply showed rust in the first half as Milwaukee raced out to a 56-43 lead on an array of uncontested jumpers and put back layups. Eventually Washington tightened up defensively and clawed its way back in the game, but not before being outscored 52-34 in the paint and allowing the Bucks to shoot 46% from the field. Washington also made the combination of Khris Middleton, Brandon Knight, and OJ Mayo look like Durant-Westbrook-Harden of old as they combined for 66 points and seemingly made every shot they attempted. On the offensive end, the Wizards’ blunders also contributed to the loss. The team missed 10 free throws (although went on a great stretch in the 4th/OT and finished 31-41) and shot under 40% from the field (highlighted by Chris Singleton’s 1-10 performance. Hey! Did you know Washington drew up a final play that allowed him to shoot the game winner?). But I digress – this is why there are 81 other games to play, to make up for down nights like this one. Let’s shift our focus to Monday against Denver and hope the Wizards can extend Wall’s total days spent at .500 or better to 5.
See below for additional game notes:
- We made it through the entire first section without mention of the best news of the night – the debut of #3 overall pick Otto Porter! After missing over two months with a curious hip flexor injury, the former Georgetown star checked into his first professional game in the 2nd quarter and received a nice applause from the crowd. Although the performance itself was anything but positive, it was encouraging to see Porter finally out on the court and what he actually did was just gravy on top. It’ll take some time to regain conditioning and learn the tendencies of his fellow teammates, but Porter is a good fit on a team with a ball dominant point guard, multiple snipers, and bruising big men down low.
- Marcin Gortat and Nene really struggled to keep the Bucks athletic big men off the glass and out of the paint. John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Ekpe Udoh all were able to get around the Wizards’ big men and led to several second chance buckets for Milwaukee. Only when Wittman turned to Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton did the team regain some balance on the glass. In fact, both of those forwards played well in their time on the court and gave the stalled out offense some much needed energy and athleticism. Filling that role in a consistent manner will be a huge help to lower the toll that the season is already taking on the starters.
- There’s been a general hunch that Washington is planning on using Trevor Ariza’s $7 million expiring contract as a trade chip this season. Ariza has played out of his mind this season thus far, and continued his contract-year play tonight. His trade value has probably never been higher but the Wizards’ front office has to ask itself whether trading him will actually hurt the team because of how little depth the roster already possesses. Small forward is an alleged area of strength for the team but until Porter shows he can handle a legitimate workload and role, Ariza will have to stay and Maynor will have to be…the only option at point guard. Unless Ariza can net a couple players who will hold up in an NBA game, it’s not worth taking the risk and giving up a guy who’s clearly built a strong connection with the rest of the team.
The Wizards will have a chance at redemption on Monday night against the Denver Nuggets.