If you were an alien from another planet and you were placed into the Wizards locker room immediately following a game with the task of trying to figure out if they won, all you have to do is look at Andray Blatche's face. When the Wizards win, he's so excited that he's speaking very, very quickly. When they lose, his shoulders are slumped and he's pausing a little bit more, trying to find the right words to criticize himself.
Last night, of course, it was the second Blatche that reporters saw in the locker room. He took full responsibility for his poor play, calling it the worst game he's played in the second half of the year and denying that Houston did anything special to stop him. But there was still one thing about Blatche's game that bugged me: the zero in the "free throw attempts" column. So I had to ask, what's up with that?
"I'm going to stop trying to avoid contact," Blatche declared. "I'm going to start trying to go through guys. I'm getting [called for] the charges anyway, so I might as well try to go through them anyway and finish that way."
I didn't dare ask Blatche why he waited until after the game to declare this. That would have been pointless. And I'm not bringing this up to single out Blatche. I am bringing this up because the Wizards as a team played right into the Rockets' hands in every way. They did exactly what Houston wanted them to do.
On paper, neither the Rockets or Wizards have offensive talent. However, the Rockets understand the core principle of offensive efficiency: the way to get it done is shoot threes and get free throws. The Rockets had 28 three-point attempts and 28 free throw attempts; the Wizards had 12 three-point attempts and 16 free-throw attempts. That means the Wizards were taking -- and missing -- a lot of mid-range jumpers. As any smart team such as the Rockets will tell you, the mid-range shot is the one everyone wants you to take. The Wizards took many of them and missed many of them, which is exactly what Houston wants.
"We were non-physical early," Flip Saunders said. "We were taking all perimeter shots and not attacking the rim, and when we did attack the rim, we did a lot of stuff out of control."
In general, while the Wizards played relatively hard, they were outsmarted. Just think of all the transition buckets Houston got in this game. Their big men -- Luis Scola, Jordan Hill and Chuck Hayes -- should never outrun Blatche and JaVale McGee, but that's exactly what they did. Since Houston doesn't have much half-court scoring capability, this was especially problematic.
"Their bigs outran our bigs," Saunders said, before uttering this zinger directed toward Blatche and JaVale McGee. "We run uphill on defense and downhill on offense. For some reason, our court is tilted."
Or, as Blatche explained it: "I see what they do. Like, say if I crash [the offensive boards], then Hayes [Blatche's man] will just get out and they'll run. Or, say, if JaVale crashes, then Scola [McGee's man] will get out and run. Someway, somehow, it'll always be their two bigs against one of our bigs." When I followed up by asking, "Okay, what do you do then to combat that?" Blatche responded: "If we crash, we definitely have to get the rebound."
Later, I asked Al Thornton what it was like to go up against Shane Battier, one of the premier defenders in the league. Battier's best strength as a defender is making you think he's giving you what you want, when in reality it's exactly what he wants. So it should come as no surprise that Thornton gave this answer:
"Shane's a real good defender and I give him a lot of credit, but I got the shots that I wanted," Thornton said. "They just didn't go in."
Again, this isn't really about effort. Crashing the offensive boards requires effort. Fighting for position against Shane Battier requires effort. Let there be no doubt that the Wizards played hard tonight. I appreciate that as a fan, I really do. However, they don't always play smart, and tonight was the best example of that.
Oh well. That's the next step in the growth of this team.
Four Factors (Bold=very good | Italics=very bad)
Snap Reaction: One veteran media member told me this was one of the ugliest games he's ever seen. The stats definitely show that. Fast-paced and erratic.
Highest individual plus/minus: Shaun Livingston (+6 in 20:00)
Lowest individual plus/minus: JaVale McGee (-15 in 17:06)
Best five-man unit: Randy Foye/Mike Miller/Al Thornton/Andray Blatche/Fabricio Oberto (+6 in the first quarter)
- Worst five-man unit: Randy Foye/Mike Miller/Al Thornton/Andray Blatche/JaVale McGee (-5 to begin the second half)
Snap Reaction: More on Livingston below the jump.
-Another game, another example of the failed Randy Foye point guard experience. However, there was some good news, as Shaun Livingston came in and played 20 excellent minutes to help lead the Wizards on a bit of a comeback. Livingston's always going to have problems scoring points -- he won't be going against tiny guards like Houston's every night -- but it is safe to say that he got the ball to guys in better spots than Foye did. He also had a couple really nice passes, including one wicked behind-the-back pass to Thornton that Thornton admitted surprised him.
"He did some good things getting us into our offense," Saunders said. "We had the best flow we had in that fourth quarter, outside of early when we had things going. We'll see how he reacts tomorrow with his leg."
Livingston admitted the game is slowing down for him after a long layoff from playing.
"Definitely. When I first get in there, it's kind of a blur, and you just want to play the right way and not make a mistake," he said. "That's what I'm getting over right now."
-Nick Young also played well, though Flip Saunders gave the requisite comment he always gives whenever Young has a good game.
"He played with more energy, [but] what he's got to do is play with energy whether he's making shots or not. He can't let making shots dictate how hard he plays."
It'd be really great to track how Young plays when he makes his first shot, as compared to how he plays when he doesn't. I suspect the difference isn't as great as Saunders thinks.
-As Joe Glorioso from Wizards Extreme noted, Mike Miller took five shots in the first few minutes of the game and just four thereafter. It was odd to see Miller launch so many shots early in the game, but he said he did it on purpose.
"The energy level really wasn't there. I could feel it," he said.
I asked him how he could tell when the energy isn't there.
"Well, it's pretty simple. I think, as you guys stated, the energy wasn't there for three quarters. If you guys can figure it out, it's a lot easier for us on the court to figure it out."
Miller was referring to one question asked by another reporter in the scrum that mentioned the lack of energy in the first three quarters. Of course, Miller only pulled the trigger on shots in the first quarter, as Glorioso noted. But don't you dare tell Miller he is too passive.
"It's not like I don't want to shoot," he said. "Some people have different roles on different teams, and [my role] is to make shots when I'm open."
The evidence proves otherwise. With this roster, Miller's role is to shoot. He's too good a shooter to be this passive.