The Washington Wizards, coming off one of their worst losses of the year on Friday vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers, were determined to make right on the final home game before the all-star break. With the cellar-dwelling Sacramento Kings coming into town, the setting was perfect to get an easy win before a tough double at Memphis on Tuesday and Houston on Wednesday. However, as a microcosm of the season, the Wizards did themselves no favors closing out the Kings and getting out on unscathed. After opening up a 17 point third quarter lead, Washington allowed Sacramento to climb all the way back to within 4 late in the fourth quarter before Bradley Beal shut the door with a couple big 3’s and allowed the Wizards to pull away and finish with 93-84 win. The victory put Washington back to .500 for about the 89th time this year, as they settle in at 25-25 overall and 13-13 at the Verizon Center.
Washington started off strong, as they led after the first quarter for the eighth straight game. The play continued for the rest of the first half as they scored 57 points and shot over 50% from the field, while limiting the Kings to just 41% shooting. It was odd to see the Wizards not come out of the gates flat in the second half as per the usual script, but once that 12 point cushioned ballooned to 17 Washington realized it needed to start turning the ball over more and taking poor shots to make this an actual game. The Wizards did wake up after the Kings advances actually threatened the game’s result and shored up what has been a very stingy defense as of late to earn the win. Offensively, the team seemed lackluster after a fantastic start, losing much of the creativity and ball movement that was the main reason for a display that ended up putting five players in double figures. Although Beal and John Wall made some big plays late, the win was really attributed to the great play from the often-maligned frontcourt pairing of Marcin Gortat and Nene. They combined for 35 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists, going 11-12 from the FT line and playing sturdy post defense on DeMarcus Cousins, forcing him into a putrid 3-16 shooting performance. There is still much to be desired in terms of protecting the defensive glass, as the Kings grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, but made life difficult down low for Sacramento’s bigs (we’ll take this time to not mention but indirectly mention the one exception; Quincy Acy’s demolition of an unsuspecting Gortat).
One of the biggest takeaways for me tonight was how thoroughly outplayed Wall was by the Kings’ diminutive but dynamic point guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has been huge since stepping into the starting role and I was very curious to see how Wall would do against him, given his well-documented struggles versus smaller point guards. Thomas repeatedly got to whatever spot he wanted to on the court and giddily watched Wall go under a number of screens on his way to 30 points and 8 assists. Wall countered with his least aggressive game in weeks, often settling for long jumpers early in the shot clock and rarely using his sizable physical advantage to get to the rim and exploit Sacramento’s shoddy interior defense. Wall finished with just 12 points and 4 assists, playing the last three quarters like he was fighting off flu-like symptoms or something. He will have to be much better in their next game against near-All-Star Mike Conley if the Wizards are to pick up what would be a big road win.
Here are some game notes and observations from tonight’s crucial result:
•The defensive strategy for Washington seemed to be to let Thomas be the primary scorer while sending often double teams to Cousins and Rudy Gay. It definitely ended up working, as Gay’s 2-11 effort complemented Cousins’ aforementioned struggles nicely for the Wizards. Not a great night from Ariza shooting the ball either but he was flying around the court on defense, both on-ball vs. Gay and also in the passing lanes, picking up 4 steals. I’d still like to see him be more of a catch-and-shoot player rather than trying to break his man off the dribble because that usually ends up leading to forced off-balance jumpers at the end of the shot clock.
•Another game, another bout of head-scratching regarding Coach Randy Wittman’s substitution patterns. After Kevin Seraphin surprisingly impressed in the first half, Wittman stuck with him through a bout of turnovers and bad shots instead of turning to reliable and energetic Trevor Booker. For anyone not in the top 6 on this roster, I don’t know how they even remotely can prepare for a game. The minutes are yanked around so recklessly that the only benefit at this point is that the other team doesn’t know which bench scrubs to game plan for.
•It was refreshing to see Bradley Beal recalibrate his shot selection to lessen the deep twos and instead step back a few feet and unleash his beautiful jump shot behind the arc. He made 4 of 5 3-point attempts and also chipped in 6 rebounds and 5 assists. I’ve been a little disappointed in Beal’s development in Year 2 (and mainly just after his injury) but if he increases court awareness, he has the talent to be a high efficiency shooting guard in this league.
•The Kings truly have an unreal number of power forwards. At any given point they can trot out Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams, Quincy Acy, or Carl Landry. Given their lack of depth in the backcourt, it would seem likely that they look to swap one of those guys who can’t crack the rotation for someone who can actually spell Thomas for more than 5 minutes a game (Hey! Eric Maynor is healthy and willing to play! Even mentioned once how much he likes Northern California!)