The march to the end of the season continues for the Wizards, and most of us are relatively confident going forward that things can only get better. I'm inclined to agree, but there was an interesting point raised the other day. A conversation turned to the Jazz and their historic collapse (first team to miss the playoffs after starting 27-13, I heard), and one of us speculated on Al Jefferson and whether being on a losing team so long had conditioned him to play like it.
That sounds paranoid, but being superstitious as only DC sports and Cubs fans can be, one can't help but wonder a little. We expect losses, yes, the team is young, and we have adjusted our expectations accordingly. Much as Nick Young detractors may laugh, I think having him out has weakened our transition defense, leading to a lot of the easy points the Pacers scored the other day, but that's neither here nor there.
Teams get tired, best winning stretch in the last three years exhausted us, a M.A.S.H. list of injuries, half the team can't buy liquor unless Flip goes with them, most of the guys now playing haven't seen much court time together. There are rationalizations aplenty for the Wizards propensity to get blown out.
Say what you want about Jordan Crawford, his ability to force defenses to pay attention opens up the offensive end more than we've seen this entire year, and together with John Wall and Nick, gives us the backcourt firepower we can build an identity around.
But that's not primarily what I'm concerned with now, for lack of a better phrase, let's call it defensive willpower for now. A germane metaphor, hemophilia is when blood has a hard time coagulating (simplified), in other words, any cut can be fatal because you can't stop the bleeding. On the basketball court, we've seen that more times than we want to think about this year. One or two electric plays for the opposing team, a defensive lapse that leads to a three ball on the fast break and everybody cringes.
An opposing team with a little more experience will settle down and run the halfcourt offense. Too often, hero-syndrome sets in, and somebody tries to turn things around on their own. A long rebound turns into transition and the bleeding worsens.
Definitely not the end of the world, of course. It's easy to conclude that Flip is increasing the complexity of the offensive sets and adapting them to the available skillsets, which leads to increased focus on executing maneuvers and being a split second slow to get back in transition. Young guys don't always make the right choice, especially with crafty veterans able to exploit inexperience in ways athleticism can't compensate for, and hey there is that zone scheme everyone seems to hate at this early stage of development.
Here's what really bothers me; it seems like when opposing teams make a run, our guys are already hanging their heads on defense as if to say, 'Here we go again...' I'm not interested in calling any of them out at this point. But I do come back to the point I referenced way back at the beginning re: Al Jefferson and whether playing in a losing culture so long had conditioned him. This team can't afford to short effort and focus on defense and risk perpetuating a culture that lacks commitment.
So what are we looking for over our substitute for the playoffs? We play the Celtics twice, theHawks, and the Cavaliers. A call to arms; for those four games, I want to see that defensive willpower when those teams make a push to break a game open. The directive to do so has to come from Flip, there can't be any more blowouts. Odd as it is to think, these next few games are going to set some of the tone for next year's training camp, which we'll all be monitoring for bated breath. Send the message, Flip. Even if it's a tired cliche: defense wins championships. If you're playing for a job, show us you can help stop the bleeding.