In the future, some young scholar is going to take a look at last night's box score on basketball-reference.com and come to the mistaken conclusion that the Wizards had a puncher's chance is the game but for the fact that Al Harrington went berserk from beyond the arc. That scholar will point to the efficiency of Nick Young, Andray Blatche and John Wall, state how the Wizards held the advantage in fast break points, points in the paint and turnovers and shot a steady 51.2% from the floor. "Oh that Al Harrington", the young scholar will jot down, "he certainly was the game changer."
That young scholar, of course, will be monumentally wrong.
Because while it is trite and incorrect to say that "stats lie," the stats in this case are doing a good job of fibbing or at the very least stretching the truth to the breaking point. If that same scholar journeyed to the vaults of the NBA home office to look at grainy game tape and pay homage to David Stern's Tomb of Lenin, he would witness the following things:
- Nene bowling over the Wizards bigs like an enraged bull.
- Ty Lawson and Chauncey Billups blowing by the entire team on offense.
- A minimal effort to the art known as defense.
"Huh", the young scholar will remark, "I guess that stats don't tell the whole story."
The Wizards can't play defense meme has now reached the point of over saturation, where every loss is placed firmly at the feet of failing to "give effort" or properly "show the basketball IQ" necessary to stop the opposition from scoring on every possession. While I hesitate to trot this lame horse out once more to beat it it to death, it should be noted that the Wizards were never really in this game and their complete lack of focus on the defensive end of the court prevented them from making a serious attempt to claw their way back in.
This failure wouldn't be as grating against other elite competition which run complicated schemes, but the Nuggets run one of the simplest playbooks in the League. There are none of the complicated arcs or swoops that you see when playing the Celtics or the Suns, but instead a series of hard straight lines pointed towards the basket. Not once during the game did I see Nene make a cut that didn't involve him plowing straight from the FT line towards the basket. Ty Lawson would take the ball and dribble through the entire Wizards defense for a layup. When that failed, the Nuggets could always dump the ball to Carmelo Anthony and watch him work his incredibly boring iso game. Al Harrington, for all his points, was basically the cherry on top of the Nuggets' sundae. It was surreal to watch him drain contested three pointers, but only because it's not a usual ingredient in the winning formula.
The issue here is that the Nuggets are a team that the Wizards should be able to play well. Because of the simplicity of the Nuggets' playbook and their lack of subterfuge, the Wizards could and should be able to capitalize on their ability to play decent man defense. It's part of the reason why though the game against Miami at home was close, it was not particularly impressive because the Heat don't run a playbook as much as give the ball up to one of the Big Three and let them do their thing. It's also what makes the win against the Celtics extremely gratifying, because the Wizards managed to overcome a team that plays an extremely complicated and disciplined system on both the offensive and defensive end.
Therefore, the Wizards should have been able to at least keep the game interesting with the Nuggets because their superior athletic ability and the lack of sophistication of the Nuggets part should have balanced out. Instead, fans were treated to a night of Wizards defenders being treated like drill cones.
In part, the effort can be excused because this was the fourth game in five nights for the team. But at some point, one has to question the preparation in regards to both the players and the staff. Because a game against the Denver Nuggets does not hold many surprises. The Wizards, however, reacted like someone jumped out the closet and yelled "surprise."
Later: Flip explains why JaVale McGee does not play with two fouls.