First of all, sorry for sporadic posts. These late-night games get watched in pieces, which has prevented a classic blogging schedule. We'll be back to normal next week.
Oddly enough, I saw some good signs in Wednesday's loss to the Kings. We battled back when we could have just folded in the fourth quarter. That was good. We played with much more cohesion in the second half - that was good. We defended Tyreke Evans pretty well down the stretch, and while he had an excellent game statistically, his impact wasn't there when his team needed it most. That was good. This wasn't quite as maddening as the Clippers loss, though any loss at this point is bad.
We really lost this game when our bench guys came in during the third quarter. Earl Boykins - god bless him, but the more he plays, the more you notice his limitations. Andray Blatche and Nick Young didn't make much of an impact in the minutes they played, and Randy Foye continues to be a complete zero. The only bench guy who did anything was Dominic McGuire. Otherwise, it was like a tidal wave - our bench came in and we lost that spark. We only regained it when the starters came back and did their thing.
The other thing that killed us? Transition defense. Sacramento had 33 fast-break points and several others on secondary breaks. They pushed on missed shots and our guys did a really bad job at getting back. Jeff Van Gundy blasted Antawn Jamison for this at one point, but it wasn't just him. Caron Butler was bad, Gilbert Arenas wasn't great, and Brendan Haywood's been going for offensive rebounds so much that he also was slow. The Wizards had to know that Sacramento pushes the pace, and yet, our attention to detail there was abysmal. This isn't the first time transition D has been the bane of our existence either. Atlanta and Oklahoma City ran like crazy on us, and neither team is as fast-paced as Sacramento.
It's the kind of mistake that Flip Saunders' attack was supposed to fix. The whole beauty of Flip's offense is that it in theory allows you to change ends easily. When a shot goes up, it goes up from a spot conducive to dropping back in transition. Guys know it's coming, so they know to drop back. But that requires discipline players, and that's not what we have. It's a perfect storm of shots coming from unexpected spots (Gilbert Arenas' biggest issue), guys rushing to get offensive boards (Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood) and guys gambling too much in the open floor (Caron Butler). Rather than impose the system more, Flip's tried to encourage guys to push the ball, which only means quicker shots and more frantic play. The transition D has suffered.
Nevertheless, the effort on the part of the players needs to change. If I'm Flip, I stress that these little things are costing the Wizards close games. Right now, players can hang their hats on the convenient excuse that Gilbert used to save them and he's not there yet. The only solution to that problem is to wait for him to get it back. But if Saunders emphatically states that it's not Gilbert's health, but rather our attention to detail on transition bucks, that is preventing us from winning close games, maybe it'll get their attention. Don't worry about egos. Show clips of Antawn arguing with the ref as Jeff Van Gundy blasts him for not getting back. Show clips of Caron gambling for steals and jogging back while pointing to someone else to get his man. Show any clip you can find.
Then, once you've tore them down, build them back up by repeating this fact - we're just 14 points away from being 13-10. Stress that all it takes to make up those points is a little more focus, a little more concentration and a little more effort. No magic solutions, no waiting on Gilbert to get his clutch swag back. Just more attention to detail. Then, mention how a lack of attention to detail isn't going to be tolerated. The guys that play are going to be the guys that understand how to value every possession.
(Okay, maybe you don't necessarily follow through fully on your final threat - I mean, if you benched people every time they lost concentration, you'd have a pissed-off team and no subs left. But certainly make it clear that mental mistakes won't be tolerated).
Four Factors (Bold=very good | Italics=very bad)
Snap Reaction: Pretty good offense all around. Sacramento was just slightly better in three of the four categories, and that made the difference.
Highest individual plus/minus: Dominic McGuire (+8 in 13:06)
Lowest individual plus/minus: Earl Boykins (-11 in 15:06)
Best five-man unit:
(+9 down the stretch)
Worst five-man unit: Earl Boykins/Nick Young/Caron Butler/Antawn Jamison/Andray Blatche (-5 at the end of the third quarter)
Snap Reaction: This is the first time I've seen McGuire play an extended amount of time with the starters, and it turned out to be a very good combination. I think it's something Flip really should go to far more often. At this point, why not? What's the difference between McGuire's weaknesses and Stevenson's? McGuire played well when he started last year and in theory fills some of the starting lineup's missing holes.