WASHINGTON -- Are the Wizards ... good?
It's a worthy question to ask after Washington defeated yet another playoff team at home by a comfortable margin. The Brooklyn Nets obviously aren't in nearly as strong a place right now as the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls, but they're still a legitimate Eastern Conference playoff squad that has aspirations to go far. And yet, throughout the entire game, the Wizards made them look like the team that has one of the league's worst three records.
The final score was 89-74, but the game really wasn't that close. The Wizards opened up a 20-point halftime lead, and save for one somewhat scary stretch late in the third quarter, coasted to the win. Some highlight plays at the end eventually finished Brooklyn off.
You can thank the second quarter for this blowout, though. That was a thing of beauty. It began with the Wizards up by one point on a lucky banked three by Bradley Beal. It ended with the Wizards up 20 points thanks to stifling defense, efficient offense and, let's be honest, some hilarious Nets ineptitude. Everyone contributed, but Nene was ultimately the catalyst, scoring 10 in the quarter and making Lopez look silly on both ends of the floor. Lopez's usually-effective floaters weren't working because Nene was in his face. Lopez's usual ineffective defense, though, was as good as ever. The Wizards ended up outscoring the Nets, 30-11, in the period.
The defense, though, was the best part. Some of it was Brooklyn's ineptitude and inability to generate easy buckets, but the Wizards contributed by playing the passing lanes aggressively and holding Brooklyn to one shot. The most impressive thing, to me: the Nets missed 18 shots in the second and only grabbed three rebounds. The Wizards collectively did a great job of boxing out, pursuing the ball off the rim and immediately going into their fast break.
Things got kind of hairy in that third quarter. Once Wall went out, the Nets went on an 11-point run to cut the deficit to nine before an A.J. Price three at the buzzer pushed it back to 12. Beal and Price couldn't get anything going in pick and roll situations, as the Nets trapped hard and stalled Washington's offense. The lead could have been cut into further were it not for Andray Blatche's inability to hit a free throw. Blatche missed four free throws during the quarter, many of them badly.
Luckily, the Wizards rallied early in the fourth, thanks to a couple highlight plays. First, Chris Singleton swatted Andray Blatche underneath in a moment that got this crowd going. Then, after a Nets turnover, Wall did what Wall does, going behind the back crossing left to right and finding Ariza streaking down the lane for the dunk. The Wizards didn't play technically sound in the fourth, but they at least outplayed Brooklyn enough to hold them off in the end.
So, I ask again ... are the Wizards good? They've now won seven of their last eight at home and are 9-7 with John Wallhealthy. (Important caveat: other key pieces like Trevor Ariza and even A.J. Price also got healthy when Wall did). The only blemish was a rough road trip, and even that was instructive because it showed Randy Wittman why he needed to get Chris Singleton in the rotation.
It's too late to salvage a playoff berth, but maybe the Wizards really have something to build on here for next year.
- I'm surprised the Nets didn't run more Flex plays with Williams running off screens early, because Wall had problems guarding him there. On the very first play of the game, he tried shooting the gap and yielded a wide-open wing jumper from Williams that luckily missed. Wall lost Williams a couple other times, and Williams actually converted on those shots. Wall's off-ball defense was also a bit problematic in the third quarter, as he kept getting back slowly, forcing other players to pick up Williams. He has to be better about this.
- A lot of times, Trevor Ariza can look like he's playing good defense by accident. He kept letting Joe Johnson bully his way to the basket, and you usually want to keep him out on the perimeter. But Ariza also knew that his length would be an asset on Johnson's floaters, and so he made sure to get his arms extended every time Johnson pulled up as he normally does. Johnson's floaters all fell short in the second quarter because of this.
- That was some really sloppy offense by the Nets in the second quarter. Bad passes, sloppy transition breaks, the whole nine yards. But you do need to credit the Wizards for being aggressive in the passing lanes. They knew the Nets don't have that slasher that can make you pay for playing tight defense, and they executed the gameplan well.
- Nevertheless, the way the Wizards forced Brooklyn into shooting a lot of jumpers was impressive. Also impressive: the fact that they almost always held the Nets to one shot, even with Reggie Evans on the floor. Brooklyn only rebounded three of their 18 second-quarter misses.
- Nene absolutely dominated Lopez the entire second quarter. Nene always plays well against Brook because he's just too fast for him, but this was on another level. He beat Lopez in pick and pop situations. He beat Lopez on straight post-ups. Most importantly, he bodied Lopez defensively, didn't go for any of his fakes and contested every one of Lopez's runners. This was an absolute clinic.
- During this week's Press Row, Glenn Consor and I both talked about how Chris Singleton's value isn't really easy to measure in the traditional box score. What I said then: Singleton's ability to passably defend a bigger player forced the Knicks to remove Amar'e Stoudemire from the game and go small to match the Wizards. Once again, we saw that in this game. Singleton was able to box out Reggie Evans passably, and that mattered because it meant the Nets had to put either Lopez or Evans on Nene defensively. They put Lopez on Nene and Nene went to work. Singleton is often the key to the Wizards playing small, long and fast, which is their preferred way of playing.
- Did not like what I saw out of Beal in the third quarter. His decision-making was tentative again, as it was in November. Decisions made in pick and roll were coming way too slowly, which led to plays breaking down and, worse, turnovers. Hopefully it was just a matter of him being tentative in his first game back.
- So ... "BLATCHE YOU SUCK" chants, huh?
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