All things considered, this wasn't the worst loss in the world for the Washington Wizards. They started off slowly against the Orlando Magic, rallied a bit in the second quarter and took the lead in the third quarter before succumbing to a barrage of three-pointers in a 102-95 defeat. There's plenty of good to take from the game if you want to look for it, but still, a loss is a loss.
I'll touch on this in the notes, but these are the kinds of games where you see the effect of meticulous preparation. Few teams are more prepared for a game than the Magic, because coach Stan Van Gundy demands it. That means that everything they do is so instinctual. They're prepared to a fault in a lot of ways, because good teams can throw monkey wrenches into a gameplan, and the Magic struggle to respond to those.
But against the Wizards, who are still learning how to prepare for games, that meticulous preparation provides the extra half-step needed to create an open three-pointer or properly cut off a pick and roll. There were several plays in the fourth quarter where the Magic simply paid more attention to detail than the Wizards. That happens with young teams, and it's a good lesson for coach Randy Wittman to preach.
More notes below the jump.
- Chris Singleton has to develop two things to improve his game: a three-point shot, and a quick first step to get his shoulders in front of his defender when he shot-fakes and drives. Right now, he has neither.
- In order to stop Orlando, you have to cut the head off the snake. In basketball terms, you can't let require two guys to stop Jameer Nelson. The second Nelson gets by the first defender and into the lane, everything collapses because of the way the Magic space the floor. Early on, John Wall allowed Nelson to get by him way too easily, which opened up lanes for shooters and offensive rebounds.
- The Wizards' lineup change revealed the big issue with this team: as frustrating as both Nick Young and JaVale McGee are, they at least are threats. Teams have to at least game-plan to slow Young, and McGee's always lurking around the rim. Do the negatives outweigh the positives? Sure. Does that mean Randy Wittman should bench them? If he's trying to send a larger message, absolutely. But the Wizards still lose something with them out, which frankly speaks to the quality of their replacements more than them as individuals.
- Of course, McGee gives up a lot defensively. Most of the time, it's with bad rotations. On this night, it was because Dwight Howard just destroyed him with his strength.
- Wall has to be way more of a threat offensively when he doesn't have the ball. One of the big issues early in this game was that the Magic would shut down the Wizards' initial play, and the Wizards' only response was to stand around as the man with the ball went one on five. The main culprit here is Wall, who spends tons of possessions sitting in the corner with his hands on his knees. He needs to be moving without the ball to be an outlet when these things happen, and he needs to compensate for his lack of a jumper by going into open space. Rajon Rondo does this really well, and Wall needs to learn from him.
- It was good to see Wall and everyone pick up their defensive pressure against Chris Duhon, but I don't know if that's something you can count on every game. Wall's got to get in much better shape and do it against much better point guards. Still, points are points, no matter when they come. If doing something like that gets you five points, you take it.
- So many offensive rebounds. The Wizards don't put a body on anyone ever, preferring instead to try to jump over their opponents. That allows guys like Ryan Anderson to sneak in even on free throws and get offensive boards. Orlando's not a good offensive rebounding team, and yet they were getting inside position all throughout the second quarter.
- I'm not entirely sure why Jordan Crawford kept trying to go at J.J. Redick. It was a weird sight. He stood there at the top of the key, went off a Booker screen to the right, then angrily waived off the screen back to the middle to go attack Redick. That's breaking a play and calling your own number in the same possession. The first time, he drew a non-shooting foul, but then he went right at him again on the out of bounds play and picked up an offensive foul. Randy Wittman sat him down right after that, which I hope was a sign that he won't tolerate that kind of selfish play.
- You can at least accept a guard-driven offense when the guards are getting into the lane, but Crawford and Young never do that, so everything breaks down.
- Here's a positive development: Singleton is aggressive again. As pointed out above, he doesn't have all the tools yet to be what he can be, but before, he didn't have the tools or the aggression. At least he now has the aggression.
- I liked seeing Wall get aggressive when the Magic got in the penalty, but he's got to hit the shots. There were some points squandered because Wall couldn't finish around the rim. While he should devote most of his training attention this summer to his jumper, I'd like to see him also work on finishing when there's contact around the basket. Get a trainer to try knocking him back as he goes up so he can explode through it. The good news is this is definitely fixable. Derrick Rose was even worse than Wall was in his second year in the league.
- Speaking of Wall: the big reason the Wizards started to rally was that they started to up the defensive intensity. That started with Wall, who started to take his matchup with Jameer Nelson more seriously than in the first quarter. The ball pressure led to turnovers and rushed shots.
- Over/under on what day I need to write the "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Live With Jordan Crawford's Shot Selection" post?
- Singleton made two really big plays on defense digging down to double-team Dwight Howard and poke the ball away. That's a little more in line with what he did at Florida State, and given his long arms, it's something I'd like to see him do more. As Wittman likes to say a lot, you can live with aggressive mistakes.
- Trevor Booker makes so many winning plays. The outlet pass he had to kick-start the fast break that led to Wall's layup is one of those winning plays. He used one hand to pitch it ahead to Crawford to create the advantage.
- Jesus, Jordan Crawford. If the Wizards get a good, consistent shooting guard to start and can use Crawford like an on/off switch, that'd make us feel way better about him. I guess that's how it works now, but it's tough when the man in front of him exhibits similar tendencies. If the Wizards can find the anti-Crawford to start, they can use Crawford to add a new dimension to games, and then they'd still have the anti-Crawford to use when Crawford was off.
- All while this was happening, Wall started to lose Nelson off the ball. Wall's roaming is what can make him such a disruptive defender, but he also can't forget about his primary responsibilities, especially with a point guard that spots up as much as Nelson.
- Kind of tough to analyze the end of that third quarter. The Magic hit some tough threes, but they do that, and the Wizards were hitting really difficult shots earlier in the quarter.
- Major miscommunication in transition between Wall and Booker, which allowed Anderson to step into a wide open three early in the fourth quarter. That's the kind of confusion that results when you play a team that runs for three-pointers instead of layups. I need to watch again to see who deserved the blame, but you have to fight your instincts to protect the rim against the Magic. It's always about protecting the three-point line. I'd have almost rather seen both guys run to Anderson and leave the rim open.
- McGee had one of the worst closeouts on Glen Davis that I ever saw, running at him sideways, surrendering the rim. Keep in mind that Davis shoots 28 percent from 16-23 feet. He was replaced by Booker because late in games, you're going to foul Howard anyway and it's better to be small when defending pick and roll.
- Wall kept holding his follow through and releasing at the highest point on his jumper. Awesome development. The threat of his jump shot also was a huge reason why Mo Evans was open for the game-tying three with 6:43 left. The Magic jumped over the screen, allowing Wall to turn the corner and deliver the pass.
- No matter how much someone reads the scouting report, it's tough to put it into action. I'm sure Singleton knew that Anderson is a major three-point threat, but in the heat of the moment, it's easy to lose concentration and step off a half-inch too far, giving Anderson all the space he needed to drain a transition three-pointer.
- Interesting to see Wittman put Young back in with four minutes left, just two games after his postgame speech where he crushed the guards for playing hero ball. As it turns out, he put in Evans for Young shortly thereafter. That's what I would have done too. Looked like Evans just needed a blow.
- I'm not exactly sure what Booker did to Richardson. It looked like his momentum caused him to trip Richardson on the rebound, and Richardson is a tough SOB that doesn't back down from anyone. I'm guessing Richardson was mad about that.
- The wrath of the pump fake strikes again. Wall was too slow to recognize the play, then compounded the problem by prematurely jumping and fouling him. Bad all around. In a lot of ways, it was similar to the McGee incident at the end of the Bucks game. You can't expect Wittman to bench Wall over it, but it's still worth at least pointing out to him after the game.
- At the end of the day, there were just too many mental mistakes and too many three-point shooters left open for a split second. The Magic are so detail-oriented in their gameplan that everything they do is off pure instinct. The Wizards, on the other hand, still are caught not being prepared enough with whatever opponents throw at them. For them, it's not instinct. The next step is to turn a commitment to preparing into actually preparing. That one may take some time.