For all of the flack Washington gets for their uneven second unit, they stepped up in a huge way tonight, helping to stave off a red hot Orlando team in the fourth quarter and picking up an important 98-93 win. Washington led the majority of the way, but Orlando still kept it relatively close, and really turned it on late as Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic got it going.
Again, it was Rasual Butler providing huge minutes off the bench. He came in and stretched the floor - almost Trevor Ariza-like in his ability to drift to the corners - and it helped that Otto Porter finally got some run with John Wall and the rest of the starters. It showed just how good Wall can be when he finally gets some shooters around him. The combination of Butler's spot-up ability and Porter bending the defense by curling off screens proved to be too much for the Magic, and it wouldn't surprise if we continue to see Wittman go with these lineups (and not Garrett Temple) down the stretch of games.
3 things we learned:
1. Bradley Beal can't come back fast enough.
The Wizards hit three 3-pointers tonight and seemingly could not get any kind of spacing. Pierce wasn’t hitting, Temple continued his regression to the mean and the only player who seemed to get it going from downtown was Rasual Butler, who was 2-3. Everyone else was a combined 1-7. Pierce in particular continued his struggles going 0-4 from behind the line, all on relatively clean looks. Considering that the Wizards are playing him exclusively at the 3 spot where Trevor Ariza shined for them from downtown last year, it is imperative that he gets his stroke back as one of the most important aspects of a John Wall-led offense is having reliable spot-up shooters.
Steve Buckhantz noted in the game that Beal is expected to be back by Friday, and this will be a huge help to the offense. Beal’s own shooting and his ability as a secondary ball-handler next to Wall will create more spacing for everyone and get guys better looks. The 3 point shot was this team’s bread and butter last year, so going 7-2 without it for much of the year is very encouraging, albeit against an easy schedule, but they definitely need it for the foreseeable future to maximize their offensive output.
2. The Bench saved the day:
The Wizards got 48 points from their bench and it could not have come at a better time. The Magic at one point cut the lead to one in the third quarter, but a lineup consisting of Wall, Butler, Porter, Nene, and Humphries turned the tide. Given that Randy Wittman has opted for hockey-like substitutions in the past with all-bench units in, it was encouraging to see him stagger some of the bench players with the starters. Humphries was fantastic. His silky smooth jumper and relentlessness in the paint led to 16 points on 8/12 shooting along with 6 rebounds. Given that his season had started off poorly with a lacerated hand and inconsistent play, it’s nice to see the former Celtic carve out a role with a team who’s had so much inconsistency behind their starting bigs in the past.
Otto Porter added 13 points on 6/8 shooting, all in the 2nd half on some dead-eye mid range shooting. We’ve seen Porter go on big scoring spurts like this before, and as he gets more comfortable on the court, he will be huge in terms of giving the Wizards a spark when they need it. Rasual Butler continued his solid play scoring 10 points and making two of the Wizards 3 triples. Butler, in particular is the kind of player who thrives when playing with the starters, as his timely drifts to the corner and shooting prowess make him a great candidate for one of John Wall’s running mates in the open court. Overall, we shouldn’t expect this kind of performance form the bench every night, but knowing that they’re capable of this is encouraging and gone are the days of #MaynorTime.
3. Sharing is caring:
The Wizards racked up 31 assists on 42 made shot. Wall led the way with yet another double-double and it looks like his passing has improved this year, as hard as that is to believe. He's delivering wonderful pocket passes on time and finding players running the floor in transition. Considering that his greatest strength is finding 3 point shooters, and that the Wizards have struggled a bit in this department to start the season, it is incredibly encouraging to see Wall rack up assists regardless of the situation.
Aside from Wall, the passing was very good all-around. Andre Miller quietly had 5 assists in 15 minutes, leading the tremendous performance by the bench. The Wizards were, for the most part, moving the ball well and getting clean looks at the basket. However, there was a dry spell in the third quarter (as always), where the Wizards got mid-range heavy and were shooting early in the shot-clock. It didn’t hurt them today, but these kinds of lulls happen when you’re satisfied with an open long two and don’t work to get more efficient shots. This is something to look out for in the future as this killed the team last year as well.