A little over a week has passed since Nene aired his dirty laundry out to the media, expressing his displeasure in how his young teammates were performing while urging the guys in the locker-room to take on San Antonio's cultivated approach to the game.
Since then, the Wizards have come off two vastly different victories. After falling to a double-digit lead by halftime to the Timberwolves, the team ramped up their defensive pressure and rallied in the fourth quarter to finally snap their four-game losing streak. The script flipped against Cleveland on Wednesday night, as the Wizards held on after nearly blowing a double digit lead in the second half thanks to a sluggish offense that featured three of their top players logging over 38 minutes on the back-end of a back-to-back.
As fans, we've become all too familiar with this team struggling to closeout games. This year, they have often gone away from John Wall in favor of running a two-man game with Bradley Beal and Nene. These oversimplified sets have brought the offense to a screeching halt, to the point where it's three guys, including their best player, standing around while defenses key in on Beal and Nene. With no semblance of weakside movement or any complexity to these sets, you're essentially laying out the red carpet for defenders to overplay their man and gamble for steals.
Several possessions from Wednesday's game stood out:
Offensive possession 1:
Anytime you have more than two players standing around, you're in trouble. Here, Matthew Dellavedova kills over 10 seconds off the clock by denying Beal the ball. By the time the hand-off is completed, there's not many options to choose from. Anderson Varejao is still agile enough to switch onto the Beal and blow up the entire play, and with the shot clock winding down and the defense scrambling, the chances of Beal making the correct read that quickly are slim to none. The Wizards turn the ball over on a shot-clock violation.
Offensive possession 2:
On the very next trip down the floor, Beal enters the ball into Nene, cuts into the paint, and curls back out. With Dellavedova once again playing excellent ball-denial defense on Beal, Nene is forced to go to work on Varejao in the low post, a low-percentage play given how poorly the floor is spaced. To make matters worse, Martell Webster makes no effort to slide to the top of the key to provide any sort of outlet pass, and your franchise player once again watches the play in the corner. Luckily, Nene gets fouled and sinks both free throws.
Offensive possession 3:
The Wizards run the same post up for Nene, except this time, Beal gets just enough space from Dellavedova off the screen to catch and shoot. He sinks the jumper, but it's still a contested jumper that we've seen him miss far too many times this season. Oh, and both Martell Webster and John Wall are standing in almost the exact same spots.
Offensive possession 4:
For the third straight possession, the Wizards run the same post-up for Nene. You'll never believe this, but after running through the exact same screen set by Gortat at the exact same spot on the floor as the previous two possessions, Dellavedova blows up the play and forces Beal to cut back inside to take a handoff from Nene. With the shot clock running down to four seconds, Beal is forced into an off-balanced jumper that clanks off the front of the rim. Luckily, the offense gets bailed out once again with a loose-ball foul on Earl Clark, sending Gortat to the line.
Offensive possession 5:
The Wizards finally change it up. Wall enters the ball into Nene on the left block, and Beal runs off a pin-down screen on the opposite side of the floor. Dellavedova once again blows up the play by fighting over the screen, which forces Beal to put the ball on the floor and make a play. He draws the help defender on his drive to the basket, kicks it out to Webster who fumbles the pass and eventually gets called for traveling. This is not an awful play by any means, but once again, the ball is out of your best playmakers' hands.
John Wall hasn't exactly lit the world on fire with his shooting, but it speaks volumes towards his improvement as a floor general that he's still managed to maintain his All-Star level of play. It remains to be seen whether his reduced role down the stretch has anything to do with his back spasms or not, but his drop-off in production does add to the speculation. Not only does his assist percentage plummet to 28.9 percent in the fourth quarter (a full 10 percentage points down from the previous three quarters on average), but his defensive rating soars to a revolting 114.2 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com's stats page.
Whatever the case is, Randy Wittman has to find more efficient ways to get the offense going. Whether it's developing a set of pet plays that the offense can fall back on or simply putting the ball in Wall's hands and letting him work, he won't get away with the execution displayed on Wednesday night against many other teams. The win is nice, but there's work to be done.
More from Bullets Forever:
- Wizards vs. Cavaliers final score: Washington almost blows another huge lead, hangs on to win, 98-91
- Wizards vs. Cavaliers: Washington survives furious Cleveland rally
- Wizards vs. Cavaliers preview chat with Fear the Sword
- John Wall continues to search for the right balance
- John Wall and Bradley Beal tear up the Timberwolves