The Washington Wizards were not at their best tonight as they lost to the Dallas Mavericks at home, 87-78.
There were a half dozen or so near shot clock violations and, while the team shot reasonably well from the floor, they couldn't buy a three pointer. Washington made only five of 24 threes tonight, the worst they've shot in recent memory, and this pretty much sums up why they lost. If they'd made 35 percent, closer to what they're averaging for the season, they'd have had nine more points and we'd be talking about how they won or lost by one or two points rather than losing by nine.
After quick start by the Wizards, this was a back and forth affair for the rest of the night until Dallas hit a few key shots with a minute or two left in the fourth quarter. Neither team seemed to be able to jump out to more than a two or three point lead for more than a possession or two. Neither team was able to make a three to save their life and the assist and point totals reflect this.
A year or two ago, the Wizards wouldn't have had a prayer in the fourth quarter, but John Wall has become such a good scorer that he was able to put the team on his back and keep things competitive even when no one else could get anything going. His two free throws late in the fourth brought Washington back to within three points with about 45 seconds left in the game. Unfortunately, while Dallas missed their next shot, DeJuan Blair got an offensive rebound and made both free throws after being intentionally fouled. Washington scored one more time on a Wall dunk but Dallas made their freebies and the Wizards fell to 14-15 on the year.
Trevor Booker continued to look like the only big man other than Nene and Marcin Gortat that can consistently play at an adequate level. He's never going to be a particularly good defender due to his lack of size, but he did an admirable enough job checking Dirk Nowitzki tonight and properly moving his feet. His energy was excellent, too, and he had 10 rebounds in the first half alone and one sequence to start the third quarter saw him pull down four offensive boards on the same possession. He also did a good job of setting screens and the Wizards got a couple of open shots as a result. While he may be a stretch as a starter, Booker looks like he should be a decent third or fourth big man for the next few years. He finished with 10 points and 19 rebounds in only 30 minutes of playing time tonight.
Losing sucks and there's nothing particularly good about how Washington (other than Booker) played. That said, the game occurred the day after New Year's Eve, so it's a safe bet that both team's struggles had more to do with a lack of focus rather than anything that's fundamentally wrong.
- Dirk left the game after playing less than a minute and Washington took advantage, jumping out to an 11-3 lead. The Wizards had a matchup advantage on almost every possession, with Wall or Trevor Ariza frequently being checked by Jose Calderon and able to do whatever they wanted to with the ball. The one problem with this, and it's a large part of what allowed the Mavs to quickly get back in the game, is that Washington stopped running their regular offense and isolated a few times too often. The team defense also suffered when Booker and Kevin Seraphin were on the floor together early on. At least at this point, it seems like Nene or Gortat need to be on the floor at all times or else the defense quickly falls apart.
- Bradley Beal, with quite a bit of help from the team as a whole, did a solid job on Monta Ellis tonight. Monta got his points but most were within the flow of the offense and Beal largely made him work for his shots, allowing hardly any free throws or layups. Beal also did surprisingly well when switched onto Nowitzki, getting a steal on one possession in the first half and successfully contesting his shots without fouling throughout the game.
- Neither team could make a three to save their life tonight. Some of it was a result of Dallas' zone and pack the paint strategy, some just dumb luck, but it made for some ugly basketball. The low score tonight can largely be chalked up to this. Had either team shot about what they normally do from deep, they'd have probably finished with an extra fifteen points each.
- Randy Wittman has been doing a much better job of managing everyone's minutes lately. Wall played 42 minutes tonight which is about six more than you'd like him to but it's understandable considering how close this one was. Nene makes the bench look so much better than they had that I think there's a very real possibility that he becomes a semi-permanent supersub, only starting if Gortat is out. It's possible Wall did get worn down playing the entire second half, though.
- Otto Porter had another fairly unremarkable game. He wasn't bad per se, he just didn't do anything that good. He did show off some good defensive habits, though, rarely biting on pump fakes and doing a good job of pressuring Vince Carter (his primary cover when he was in). He needs to start looking for his shot more often, much as he did the other night against Detroit, and attacking more mismatches. Otherwise, team's are just going to put their worst defensive player on him, leading to better defenders on Wall, Nene, Beal, etc.