We can all exhale. After a disappointing 0-3 start to the new season, the Washington Wizards finally got the monkey off their back and won their first game, a 116-102 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The starters played phenomenally tonight. John Wall hit a career-high five three pointers on the way to 24 points and nine assists, while Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal chipped in 15 and 17 points. Marcin Gortat and Nene combined for 17 rebounds, 29 points and three blocks while bullying the less physical 76ers down low.
The defense as a whole was much tighter than it had been last week when the team blew an early lead to Philly. Thaddeus Young, who gets most of his points off of cuts to the basket and put backs, was limited to only seven points on 3-11 shooting tonight as opposed to the 29 off 14-20 shooting he had last week. This is directly attributable to a lack of breakdowns on Washington's end as well as more awareness from the big men.
This was a good win in which the team played hard and stuck to what it does well. It's an open question as to whether this lasts, but at least for one night, they looked like the fringe playoff team we were all promised. Game notes in chronological order are below.
Philadelphia's interior defense was atrocious. It's not even anything in particular that Spencer Hawes or Thaddeus Young did tonight, they're just not good defensive players and need to be paired with someone who is. As a result, there were a ton of instances in which Philly's entire defense fell apart and left players scrambling because the bigs weren't able to cut off penetration or shut down the paint. Washington had some good ball movement that led to a bunch of open threes, but this had at least much to do with the Sixers' shortcomings as the Wizards' strengths.
Wall hit five three pointers which is completely insane when you consider that he hit three during the entire course of his sophomore year. It really helps the team's spacing if he can make them when he's open as he did tonight.
Trevor Ariza has been playing very well and it might be worth it to -- blasphemy alert! -- move either Webster or Porter in order to keep him around. He's still the team's best defender, has been shooting better and better each year as he's taken more of a complementary role, and his game should age reasonably well due to his length and spot up shooting ability. It also didn't hurt that Evan Turner was the perfect matchup for him -- a primary ball handler whose passing can be bothered by his length and a weak enough shooter and finisher that he can't make people pay for gambling for steals (as Ariza likes to do).
The Wizards jumped out to a large lead in the first quarter but let Philadelphia get back into the game. They gave up too many layups due to defensive breakdowns on the perimeter. Gortat might be able to make up for those mistakes in a few weeks, but he's still too new to the team and its schemes to be much of a difference maker right now.
Gortat and Nene are unbelievably physical down low. They bullied Philadelphia's big men for most of the night, and even though they weren't able to score at will or anything, they were able to get the best of their matchups.
Martell Webster looked good tonight, finishing with 14 points and three assists. He can really help the bench if he's able to create shots for himself and take over some playmaking duties. About the only thing you could criticize the team for tonight is how much the bench's offense stagnated when it was run through Kevin Seraphin and Eric Maynor.
The team's ball movement was excellent tonight. Everyone, even Seraphin for the most part, made the extra pass and it paid off with a lot of open looks. Philadelphia's defense made this easier than it normally would be but it's still good to see.
Beal missed two free throws and seems to be having trouble from the line. It's probably just mental right now and hopefully it doesn't become a thing. Only the Wizards could have a sharpshooting two-guard who can't make free throws.
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