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Wizards hold on to beat 76ers in DC: Final wrap (a day late) and a vote for a larger rotation

First of all, I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving with their families (and not on here).  I sure did, and I hope you guys did too.

So I apologize if this recap is a bit stale.  The game happened three days ago, after all.  But I have to put a final wrap on it before we move on.

Yes, it's true.  The Wizards almost lost on Tuesday to the 76ers due to a fourth quarter near-meltdown.  The worst part about the fourth quarter was that Philadelphia's two highest-paid players, Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, were not in the game.  It was a dash of Louis Williams and Jrue Holiday that nearly won Philadelphia the game.  That's ... well ... kind of sad.  This game should never have been close enough where an open Williams three-pointer has the potential to decide the game.

Beyond that fourth quarter, though, this game was a major success.  Why?  Everyone, except Gilbert Arenas, played well.  We dominated a fully-healthy team for three quarters without two key starters.  We got contributions from all over.  We played excellent defense and displayed great ball movement on offense (obvious caveat: we were playing the 76ers, a discombobulated team confused by the Princeton offense and already suffering the requisite Eddie Jordan drop-off on defense). 

Most importantly, two guys who have mostly languished on the bench brought it last night.  Yes, I'm talking about Nick Young and JaVale McGee.  Going forward, we're going to need them to produce, and we're going to need Flip Saunders to trust them to play through obvious growing pains.  Tuesday's game was certainly a good start.

Four Factors (Bold=very good | Italics=very bad)

Team Pace Off Eff eFG% FT/FG OREB% TOr
Philadelphia 94 113.8
45.7 22.3 40.4
114.9 50.5
15.1 42.2


Snap Reaction: Lots of offensive rebounds.  Also, we're once again seeing Washington's new defensive philosophy.  Contest shots and never go for steals.  There's an exaggerated emphasis is on lowering the defensive field goal percentage at the expense of creating turnovers.

Lineup Details, via Popcorn Machine

  • Highest individual plus/minus: Fabricio Oberto (+15 in 21:24)
  • Lowest individual plus/minus: Randy Foye and Andray Blatche (-10 in 15:42 and 21:54, respectively)
  • Best five-man unit: Gilbert Arenas/Nick Young/Antawn Jamison/Fabricio Oberto/Brendan Haywood (+14 in the third quarter)
  • Worst five-man unit: Gilbert Arenas/Nick Young/Antawn Jamison/Andray Blatche/Brendan Haywood (-4 in a stretch late in the game)

Snap reaction: Fabricio Oberto continues to rack up the positive plus/minuses.  It's a cliche, but he does the little things to help you win.  

To put things in perspective, the two guys who really provided a jolt for the Wizards on Tuesday -- Young and McGee -- haven't really played much recently.  Young hadn't played double-digit minutes since the loss to Indiana, while McGee still hasn't played in more than 15 minutes all season.  It's enough to make you wonder whether we're wasting some of the depth we have on this roster.  We discussed this concern during the offseason, and early on, as Flip Saunders went to a tight, veteran-heavy rotation, the concern popped up for me again. 

Because, let's be honest, Young and McGee have largely been squandered.  Young's received plenty of chances to start and hasn't taken advantage, but McGee hasn't.  These guys can help you if they get a chance, but if you're committing to a small rotation, then they'll never get that chance unless injuries beset you.  Why tout your depth and young talent if you aren't going to use it?

Obviously, the flip side of this argument is that you have depth like this precisely for the times when injuries hit you hard.  That's true.  But when that depth is in the form of young talent like Young and McGee, they need chances to grow on the court.  It doesn't even have to be for many minutes -- McGee played 14 tonight and still made a major difference.  It just has to be a consistent stretch so that the players aren't looking over their shoulders when they make a mistake.

Obviously, this is easier said than done, but I think Flip needs to strongly consider widening the playing rotation beyond the usual eight guys.  Sit the big guns more often, especially considering how Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler are playing.  That might keep them fresher and make them feel like they don't have to carry the burden.  I think Saunders was leaning in this direction even before the 76ers game, but hopefully he continues this once all the injured players come back.

Other thoughts:

  • Gilbert Arenas is clearly struggling with the superstar's dilemma.  He made a conscious effort to get guys like Young involved early, but had no rhythm the rest of the game.  I'm not sure why this is so hard for him, but he has to find some way to maintain a rhythm without taking shots.  I guess the only thing to hope for is that he gets it back simply from playing more and more.  Until then, maybe playing him fewer minutes will help.  That way, he isn't totally out of control.
  • I really like the lineup with Antawn Jamison at small forward.  Jamison has great range and can punish smaller threes on the block.  He's also not nearly as much of a defensive liability when he has two big guys behind him ready to help.  Playing Jamison at small forward also changes the rotation in two positive ways -- it cuts into Caron Butler's minutes (Butler is playing too much for how little he's providing) and it opens up more time for JaVale McGee. 
  • Young played excellent defense on Andre Iguodala, so I don't want to take anything away from that.  However ... my god, Iguodala was settling for a lot of jumpers.  That's not his strength at all, so you wonder whether he's desperately trying to prove to people that he's a complete player.  Here's a tip, AI9: get back to your strengths.
  • Resist the temptation to say the ball moved better because Caron Butler was injured and Gilbert Arenas wasn't always in the game.  You want to know the real reason the ball moved better?  The 76ers played bad defense