Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
The Washington Wizards play their home opener against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, November 3rd. Here's how they can defy the odds and hand Boston their second 0-3 start in as many years.
The Wizards have been underdogs every time they've played the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett era. Since being the only team in the NBA to have a winning record against Boston during the Celtics' 2008 championship season, Washington has largely struggled in the teams' subsequent matchups. Washington has lost 12 of their last 15 games against Boston, with Boston winning by an average of almost 14 points games in which they were victorious.
All hope is not lost, though. By exploiting a few key matchups, hustling like crazy and playing disciplined defense, Washington could very well get their first win of the new season. Here's how.
Attack Boston's second unit bigs. Kevin Garnett is a first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the best big men on the planet. Darko Milicic, Jared Sullinger, and Jeff Green, though? Not so much, and especially on the defensive end of the floor. Darko is Boston's only reserve big with any length whatsoever and should at least in theory be a plus rim protector. In practice, though, he's far from that. While Darko blocks a lot of shots, he's a lazy, unfocused defender who leaves tons of openings for active big men to cut to the rim for easy dunks.
Darko "guarding" Larry Sanders ...
... and casually watching him go up for an uncontested dunk.
Friday night, Milwaukee destroyed Boston because of two first half runs where the Bucks' long, springy big men repeatedly burned Darko for dunks and layups. Sanders and Ekpe Udoh aren't particularly skilled players, but still managed to to combine to score 20 points off of 13 field goal attempts in Friday's victory. Darko's poor motor wasn't solely to blame, too, as Sullinger and Green lack the length to challenge shots at the rim. By staying active, Washington's bigs, and Jan Vesely in particular, should be able to have a similar amount of success.
Resist the temptation to attack Kevin Garnett one on one. In case you haven't heard, KG is a pretty good defender. He has elite length and defensive awareness, possesses a very low foul rate (2.7 per 36 minutes as per Basketball-Reference), and, even after 17 years of professional basketball, moves his feet as well as any big man in the NBA. In other words, it's probably not worth it to attack him one on one. Kevin Seraphin, making his season debut after missing a few weeks with a calf injury, will probably want to make a statement by being a bit more aggressive than normal with the ball, especially if he's affected by Garnett's legendary trash talking. While Seraphin may be able to get a few buckets, there are other guys (Bradley Beal in particular) who are going to have far more favorable matchups tonight.
Don't get too aggressive contesting shots at the rim. Sullinger and Bass are both undersized and struggle to shoot over length in the paint. Bailing them out with trips to the line would be a huge mistake, especially considering how tall Okafor, Vesely, and Seraphin are. At the same time, Washington has struggled on the defensive glass, especially with Nene off the court (Washington's defensive rebounding was 5.2 percent better on a per-possession basis with Nene on the floor last year), with one of the causes being the tendency of the Wizards' bigs to leave their men in order to chase blocks.
Do push the tempo. Despite Boston's increasingly well-known emphasis on getting back on defense at the expense of the team's offensive rebounding, the Bucks were able to repeatedly beat them down the floor. Even if Milwaukee wasn't able to convert off of as many fast breaks as they'd have liked, the defensive discombobulation that Boston suffered allowed Milwaukee to exploit a number of mismatches in the half-court. Washington has fresh legs and numerous young big men, and should have no problem beating the Boston down the floor if the team tries. In fact, this might be the only way the Wizards will be able to crack the 90 point barrier tonight. Boston's half-court defense, especially that of their starting lineup, is still elite.
Be careful with Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Both Rondo and Pierce are very tricky players to defend. They're both elite ball handlers with a plethora of shot fakes, jab steps, and old man-style moves that they use to get defenders off balance. Both can destroy a team, Pierce with his scoring and Rondo with his playmaking, if their defenders aren't disciplined, and Washington's defense could struggle to contain them. Guarding them is a lot easier said than done, but if Washington emphasizes a low-risk style of defense, they might be able to limit their effectiveness.
Despite their weak start, Boston's a good team, and it's going to take a lot of effort and at least a little bit of luck for anyone to beat them. It's not impossible, though, and by emphasizing a few key strategies, the Wizards just might be able to do it.