WASHINGTON -- Another game, another loss. Once again, the Wizards fought hard, but they couldn't get good possessions when it mattered late and couldn't get quite enough stops to rally in a 101-91 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Washington falls to 0-4 on the season.
The most depressing thing about this loss was that the starters played well. The three players who struggled most in the first three games were Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and Bradley Beal. Tonight, those were the Wizards' three best player. This time, though, it was everyone else that played well in the first three games -- Kevin Seraphin, Martell Webster -- that didn't come through. That makes it even harder to figure out the right answer to stop the bleeding going forward.
The game, of course, will be marred by the incident at the end when Beal flagrantly fouled Monta Ellis on the break and Brandon Jennings shoved him aside to get ejected. It was not a good play by Beal to chase Ellis down like that. He deserved his flagrant foul (though I would have gone with a flagrant 1). But Jennings also very much deserved to get ejected because Beal was trying to help Ellis up when Jennings shoved him down like that.
Chronological notes and the good/bad/medium to follow:
- The Wizards caught a major break on the first possession of the game. They brought Samuel Dalembert up high, and for some reason, Emeka Okafor didn't think to drop back and help Bradley Beal as Monta Ellis rubbed off a backpick. Luckily, Ellis missed the layup.
- Otherwise, wow, what a start. The thing I liked most was the way the Wizards' primary defenders cut off dribble penetration at the point of attack. There was one play where Brandon Jennings declined a ball screen to go to his favorite left hand. Normally, Jennings gets by his primary defender by catching them off balanced. Instead, A.J. Price did a great job sliding his feet to cut off Jennings at the elbow, forcing a fadeaway jumper, an easy miss and another fast-break layup.
- Active hands in the passing lanes was nice too. The Bucks will make you work by throwing a lot of passes around the perimeter, so if you can disrupt them, you can disrupt their offense. Trevor Ariza actually did a really nice job here.
- Speaking of former Hornets players, Emeka Okafor came to play tonight. He was always in the right spot to cut off dribble penetration, and he blocked a couple shots when players got too deep. There was one play where he stepped up just in time to prevent Jennings from getting to the rim on a layup. Jennings instead shot a one-legged fadeaway that missed.
- It seemed like the Wizards' guards got a bit impatient after the initial burst. At first, they got out of control looking to make spectacular plays instead of making it easy. Then, they got too passive and stopped trying to break down the defense, leading to a ton of possessions where nothing really happened.
- Bradley Beal had his issues guarding Monta Ellis. Ellis used screens nicely a couple times to free himself up for open lanes, which he used to drive and find his teammates. Beal can't get hung up on simple screens that easily.
- This is such a tempo game sometimes. When one team is getting easy buckets, it forces the other team into halfcourt sets, which have a higher degree of difficulty. Those misses lead to transition run-outs and easy scores on the secondary break. Rinse, repeat. Early on, the Wizards had control of the tempo. As the first quarter went on, though, the Bucks got a half-court score, got a few stops and then were able to start getting easy points in secondary transition situations. Then, after the timeout, the Wizards briefly regained that tempo, and on we went.
- A solid early performance from Ariza and Okafor. I liked the pocket bounce pass Ariza threw to Okafor to set up the wide-open 16-foot jumper.
- Good to see Chris Singleton aggressive early. He still has to become much better at finishing around the rim, but I like that he attacked an Ersan Ilyasova closeout and got his shoulders by Ilaysova's hip on the drive. He missed the finish, but that's an important step in his development.
- Not a fan of the Wizards' second-unit spacing. With the lineup they had in there, the obvious play was to get Seraphin some post touches off cross-screens, with Jan Vesely in the high post. Instead, the wings tried to do it themselves a bit too often.
- Seraphin did get a couple touches eventually, but I didn't like seeing him flattened by a cross-screen, leading to a Larry Sanders layup. Someone needs to call out that screen so Seraphin is aware.
- Martell Webster had a ton of trouble staying with Mike Dunleavy coming off baseline screens. A lot of people do, of course, but Webster should be doing a better job.
- In general, the Wizards' second unit had a really poor gameplan. Rather than pound the Bucks inside and slow the game down, the Wizards ran too much offense through their guards, feeding right into Milwaukee's hands. I know Seraphin had trouble passing out of double teams the other night, but Milwaukee's doubles aren't the same as Boston's doubles. The Grizzlies used their size to muck up Wednesday's game against the Bucks; the Wizards should have tried to do the same.
- Oof, Beal's defensive stance against Ellis on one drive. The second Beal opened it up, Ellis zoomed down the lane for a really easy dunk. That's how fast guys in this league are, Bradley.
- It's nice that Price knows he needs to take floaters to get shots over rotating big men. It'd be nicer if he actually made those floaters.
- Besides that one awful breakdown, it did seem like Beal gave a pretty good effort defending Ellis. Soon, he'll learn all the ways that Ellis used his quickness and be able to adopt to it.
- However, it is still a bit frustrating to see Beal play so passively when bigs come out at him on pick and roll. There was one play where he had a chance to turn the corner to the baseline on Ekpe Udoh and attack the basket. Instead, he dropped back into no-mans land and threw a slow lob pass to Okafor that was nearly intercepted. It's OK, Brad. Commit a turnover if you must. Just attack.
- Man, Trevor Ariza stinks at attacking closeouts.
- Okafor continued to do a good job sliding his feet and cutting off dribble penetration. The Bucks offer a good matchup for him because he's not spending very much time defending a major threat. Samuel Dalembert isn't going to hurt you, so Okafor was freer to roam around the lane and assist his teammates.
- Welp, Trevor Booker mishandling passes.
- If Ariza can hit a decent percentage of corner threes, he can occupy the same kind of role Kawhi Leonard does for the Spurs. He just needs to attack closeouts better.
- One thing that prevents Singleton from playing power forward all the time: his lack of big man fundamentals. Stretch 4s don't need to do all the things that traditional power forwards can, but they do need to set reasonable screens and hold onto rebounds. Those were two things Singleton didn't do in the third quarter.
- I like that Beal seemed to be able to create more space to take his jumper, but I still don't think he attacks the basket enough. He has the capability, so you'd like to see him use it more often.
- When you're playing close games, little things really count. Booker cost the Wizards three points by mishandling a wide-open dunk and bringing a ball down on the break instead of going up right away (he got fouled and hit 1-2 from the line). Singleton fumbled a rebound and got forced into a jump ball; the Bucks recovered and scored on the possession. Singleton also messed up a dribble handoff with Crawford, leading to a Beno Udrih steal. Those plays add up.
- I don't like it when guards purposely go away from the screen. Many teams these days "ice" the screen and roll, which is to say that they force the ball-handler away from the screen and to the baseline. On two separate occasions, Jannero Pargo and Jordan Crawford willingly went right into the Bucks' coverages, leading to a baseline trap. Crawford smartly found Vesely for a floater on one of them, but it's a poor strategy because it's feeding into the Bucks' defensive coverages. When it's possible to go towards the screen and mess that coverage up, the guards should do it.
- Pargo can't led Udrih drive right to eventually pull up left. He has to know Udrih's tendencies better than that.
- Crawford doesn't look healthy. He got no lift on his breakaway layup attempt. It might serve him well to take a couple days or games off to get right.
- Ariza's inability to attack closeouts is really problematic when the ball is swinging around and you're the guy they leave in the corner. Once that happens, you have to be able to make a quick decision, whether it's shooting the three-pointer or attacking the closeout. It's the easiest spot in the world for a player because his man is already off-balanced before he catches the ball. If Ariza can't make a play under those circumstances, it's problematic.
- Beal did a nice job attacking the rim on a fast break and forcing his way to the free-throw line. He should do that more often.
- I really like sets where the point guard can run his man into an initial screen, swing it to the big man, and then the big swings it to Beal on the wing for a quick side pick and roll. The misdirection of the previous play makes it easier for Beal to run his man into the screen and make a play. In one case, it was hitting Booker in stride for a dunk with a beautiful pocket bounce pass.
- It's just a killer when you get some momentum going ... and then there's a miscommunication that leaves Larry Sanders wide open underneath the basket. I think that was on Okafor, but it's tough to tell. Regardless, that cannot happen.
- The difference in this game was the way each team attacked closeouts. The Bucks are so good at making quick decisions and punishing you when you're rotating and off-balanced. The Wizards do a horrendous job at making quick decisions when you're rotating and off-balanced. I'm not sure why the Wizards don't practice this well, but seeing as this has become a drive and kick kind of league, it's stunning how rudimentary the Wizards' skills are here. Beal will learn how to do it better because he's 19, but how do you explain Ariza, Price and Crawford?
- That last-gasp possession where the Wizards got a steal and nobody shot it? That illustrates the above problem. Nobody can make a play in a closeout situation.