Wizards 126, Kings 119: Scoring barrage overshadows major defensive improvement

The one thing most people are going to take away from this win was the 44 point third quarter.  This is understandable, considering the Wizards turned a 6 point deficit into a double digit lead in only 12 minutes of play.  

But we all know the Wizards can score, so that really shouldn't be that big of a story.  Without their best defender, the Kings were powerless to stop the Big 3.  As Big Easy mentioned in the comments section, there was going to be a matchup problem somewhere, because neither Mike Bibby or Kevin Martin could guard Gilbert Arenas, and if Artest played and guarded Agent Zero, then neither of those guys could have handled Caron Butler.  

No, the biggest eye opener in that third quarter was the improvement of the defense.  Say what you want about that 44 point third quarter, but the Wizards absolutely shut down Sacramento in the third.  The 21 points are deceiving because the game was played at a much quicker pace.  

Consider this.  In the first half, the Kings scored on 29 of their 55 possessions, meaning they got a field goal or foul 53 percent of the time.  They were getting layups at will, and none of the Wizards' perimeter defenders were playing anything close to competent defense.  There was one play where Sacramento ran Kevin Martin on two screens on the left side, and by the time he caught the ball on the right wing, Arenas was literaly trailing by 20 steps.  The Kings really weren't doing anything special, but every time Bibby and Brad Miller ran a pick and roll, it would end in a layup.  They ran Martin off screens for open shots, and when all else failed, they gave the ball to Salmons and he overpowered Arenas.  

In the third quarter, there was a huge difference.  The Kings only scored on 12 of their 30 possessions, and if you take away them scoring on their last three possessions of the quarter, that number drops to 9 of 30.  During the key stretch where the Wizards build their double-digit lead, the Kings only scored on 30 percent of their possessions.  Compared to 53 percent, that's a huge difference.  Suddenly, the best shot Sacramento could get was a contested hook shot for Kenny Thomas.  The Wizards threw a little bit of a full-court defense early in the quarter, which sped up the game and encouraged more defensive pressure.  The Kings started hurrying shots, and the Wizards' offense got more offensive possessions to unleash their attack.  

So while the offensive explosion is getting the most headlines, the defensive improvement was the key to yesterday's win.

The Big 3 each had amazing games and once again went over their season average, but two other players had huge games that were essential to the winning effort.  The Wizards simply wouldn't have won this game without Brendan Haywood and Antonio Daniels.  Haywood was a beast on the offensive glass yesterday, with 9 offensive boards.  He also contributed with 12 points and overpowered Brad Miller inside when he had the chance.  Since Etan Thomas went down against Houston, the Wizards are 4-1, and the only game they lost was the Denver game, where Haywood played horribly.  When he's on the floor, the Wizards are both a better offensive and defensive teams.  Thomas has better offensive skills, but Haywood's offensive rebounding creates more possessions.  On the defensive end, Haywood's length frustrates opponents, and the Wizards have much better defensive efficiency numbers when he's out there.

The other guy was Antonio Daniels, who almost singlehandily kept the Wizards in the game in the first half.  When I keep mentioning that Daniels provides a major spark, these types of games show why.  In the second quarter, Daniels was slashing to the rim and getting to the free throw line.  The Wizards desperately need him to play like this every night, because the bench isn't deep without Thomas and Darius Songaila.  

Overall, the win was really satisfying, and it signals the Wizards are really starting to turn it around.  Perhaps I need to revisit that 50 win prediction.    

By the way, a quick standings update.  

Picking Games

  1.  Hype: 75% (3 for 4)
  2.  Big Easy: 66% (2 for 3)
  3.  Jake the Snake: 66% (2 for 3)
  4.  Me: 3 for 5 (60%)
  5.  Seth: 1 for 2 (50%)
Big Three
  1.  Jake the Snake: 2 for 3 (66%)
  2.  Big Easy: 2 for 3 (66%)
  3.  Me: 3 for 5 (60%)
  4.  Hype: 2 for 4 (50%)
Post any other postgame thoughts in the comments section.
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