Last night, in our emotional game recap, I mentioned that last night's game proved that we're still not there when it comes to the true contenders for the title. It was a bit of a snappy line that was put there in effect, in part because it sounded right and in part because there was something more to it that I needed time to think about.
Well, now I've thought about it and I realize what I meant.
The sign of a true contender is one who can run their half-court offense effectively in the face of stepped-up defensive pressure. A true contender trusts their offensive system and offensive sets enough to run them better when the defensive pressure increases rather than abandoning them. The Wizards didn't run their halfcourt offense well last night. Therefore, they aren't there yet.
More below the jump, but first, some numbers.
Four Factors: (bold=very high, italics=very low).
Lineup stats, via Popcorn Machine
- Highest individual plus/minus: JaVale McGee (+1 in 11:24)
- Lowest individual plus/minus: Mike Miller (-16 in 34:36) and Randy Foye (-14 in 19:30)
- Best lineup: Gilbert Arenas/Mike Miller/Caron Butler/Fabricio Oberto/Brendan Haywood (+6 to start the game)
- Worst lineup: Gilbert Arenas/Randy Foye/DeShawn Stevenson/Andray Blatche/Brendan Haywood (-9 in the fourth quarter)
Think about it for a second. When did the game turn? In the second quarter, when the Wizards started fouling too much on defense. What happens when you foul? The other team goes to the free throw line. What happens when the other team goes to the free throw line? You're constantly taking the ball out of the basket. What happens when you constantly take the ball out of the basket? You have no transition game to rely on to use your speed advantage. How do you win when you can't rely on your transition game? You need to execute your half-court offense well.
That didn't happen at all. Credit Cleveland's defense for a lot, of course. They basically decided to play Gilbert Arenas straight up and let him try to score, and it worked tremendously. But eventually, with the game slowed down and the Wizards frustrated by perceived bad calls, they stopped running the sets and instead broke plays to make mad dashes to the rim. They figured that the refs were calling the game tight and could take advantage by creating contact. That worked, in a sense, because the Wizards ended up with 41 free throws (which was 14 more than Cleveland despite referee mistreatment, for what it's worth). But all it did is slow the game down even further, which works to Cleveland's advantage.
It wasn't just Arenas either. Caron Butler, after an excellent offensive first quarter where he did a great job of running LeBron James off picks and tiring him out, didn't do the same in the third quarter. When he did get the ball in the second half, the offensive flow just stopped as we waited for Butler to size up his defender, jab step, then either shoot or drive. Those types of things hurt your offensive flow, even if the play is designed to get Butler isolated somewhere. Randy Foye slugged his way through 19 minutes and just one assist, while Brendan Haywood continues to look for his offense a bit too much for my taste.
The Wizards' halfcourt offense needs quick and decisive moves to work. It's all a bunch of cuts and screens that fold into each other. If you take too long on one play, then you hamper your chances of continuing the offense. Too often, there was a lot of sizing up the defense rather than just going and making a play right off the bat. That, along with driving just to draw fouls, slows down the pace of the game and only exacerbates Cleveland's size advantage.
The good news here is that, if this is the problem, the remedy may simply be more time in Flip Saunders' system. That'll occur naturally as the season goes on, as everyone gets more comfortable running those sets after so many years in the Princeton. Here's hoping that time can heal those wounds.
- Mike Miller took just three shots last night (although he did draw a number of fouls). Frankly, it's just mind-boggling how this happens. He does so many things that just make you wonder, like throwing the ball into JaVale McGee in the post with the shot clock running down. The Wizards really need to do something to force him to shoot instead of relying on him to find his offense. For example, why not let him come off the bench and start DeShawn Stevenson? Miller could come in for Caron Butler and immediately become the second- or third-best offensive player in the lineup. Then, run some plays for him and have him handle the ball in pick-and-roll situations.
- I was very disappointed that Foye, Arenas and Miller never shared the court last night. I guess Flip Saunders was concerned with how they'd match up defensively with LeBron James in that lineup, but LeBron only played 36 minutes. Why not play that lineup during that stretch? Cleveland has small guards anyway. Instead, either Butler or Stevenson was in the game at all times. I think that was a mistake. UPDATE: As Aldo points out, they did end the second quarter together and were outscored by six points. My bad. Of course, the Wizards were playing Caron Butler at PF, but the point still stands.
- It's only four games, but I'm a bit worried with how much Brendan Haywood is looking for his own shot. I talked to him after the Nets game about this, and he sounded so happy that he was shooting. He pointed out that he's taken 32 shots in three games (not including last night), and that it would have taken a month in the Princeton offense to get that many. This may be true, and I'm not opposed with the occasional post touch for Haywood, but Haywood is one of those guys whose efficiency goes down with increased usage. Since his efficiency was such a huge part of his value in the past, it's important his usage remains low. Don't force things, Brendan. Run the offense.
- Once again, Fabricio Oberto did some positive things, but it was amazing how little respect Cleveland showed for him. Anderson Varejao basically didn't guard him the halfcourt offense. This is where Antawn Jamison's return will help most. The spacing with Oberto on the floor is brutal.
- Andray Blatche didn't play badly, but he still needs to work on improving his play when he runs into a little adversity. He wasn't the same after he picked up those three fouls.
- A positive sign: JaVale McGee has put together four very good games. He hasn't played much, but he's doing several positive things out there. I like his aggression fighting for offensive boards.
And finally, a note to Cleveland fans...
I imagine if you check out our game thread, you'll be a bit put off by all the whining about the officials. I understand that -- you want to enjoy your win and you don't want to deal with comments that make us seem like sore losers. But please, consider a few things.
- Game threads are our sounding board. They're meant to be where we make our snap reactions to plays. They're meant to be places where our passion shows itself the most. Everyone on this site is a smart, rational fan that, like any other, is prone to emotional anxiety in the heat of the moment. So don't use those comments as fuel to your long-standing belief that Wizards fans are either stupid, crybabys or sore losers. Consider context first. Understand that those threads, and the immediate post-game threads that follow, are meant to be venting places when the Wizards lose. We do plenty of self-analysis, so don't say all we do is whine about the officials. To make an analogy - coaches complain to the officials during games all the time, but nobody would consider them whiners. It's just what happens in the heat of the moment. We understand that and we ask you do too.
- Please, please, please admit this is a rivalry and that you dislike the Wizards and their fans emotionally. I mean, your own local broadcast had a poll running that said "Which Wizards player do you hate the most?" We're willing to admit that our hatred for the Cavs affects us, please be willing to do the same. And please, the players on the Cavs don't like the Wizards either, as much as they may say otherwise. As long as you're willing to admit your biases, we're willing to talk to you, because we're all aware of ours. The second the tone turns into "You pathetic Wizards and your fans, you're not our rival, we don't care about you," is the second things go south. It's wrong and you all know it.
- You are welcome to comment on here, but please understand you're talking on someone else's turf. You may not agree with us or our rules, but you need to be respectful of the location. So don't come on here to pick fights. Don't call us whiners even if you believe we are. Be careful with how you phrase your comments because you know we're a sensitive lot. It's not the fairest way to talk in the world, but that's just how it is. You wouldn't go over to someone's house and tell them that their cooking sucks or their house isn't clean enough.
- Finally, it is possible for us to have intelligent, rational discussion as long as we set some ground rules.
Thanks. If you are here to comment rationally and follow those ground rules, we look forward to hearing from you.