TV & Radio:
The game will be on CSN+ tonight as opposed to the main CSN channel. It will also be on NBA TV for any non-local Wizards fans. Radio will as usual be WNEW 99.1 FM.
Martell Webster will be out again with his back injury. Nene’s status is officially unknown but according to CSN insider, J.Michael, he is unlikely to play tonight, still bothered by a foot injury.
Are They Good?
It’s difficult to say. The Pelicans play in an extremely tough Western Conference, and their record is currently 7-7. Their offense is dynamic, as they are currently ranked 5th in efficiency on that end of the court. The most obvious cause of this is the absolutely ridiculous season Anthony Davis is having. He’s averaging 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals, with a league leading PER of 33.5. He’s putting up legitimate MVP caliber numbers and might be the best player in the league so far this season.
Other players have stepped up as well for this team. Jrue Holiday is having a solid season averaging 15.4 points and 6.5 assists, while Ryan Anderson is averaging 15.6 points, having made 35 threes already this year, more than double the total of any Wizards player. Tyreke Evans is having a bounce-back season this year as well, stuffing the stat sheet with 15.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. This team has all the tools to be an offensive juggernaut with a dynamic big man, a stretch four and two ball-handlers who can create for others, and for the most part, they have been.
Defensively, the Pelicans have been incredibly disappointing. Despite having acquired defensive savant Omer Asik to pair with Anthony Davis in the frontcourt, the Pelicans are currently 22nd in defensive efficiency. Some of this is due to a very jumbled defensive system and weak perimeter defenders (besides Holiday). Anthony Davis, despite being an incredible shot-blocker, is still learning the nuances of NBA defense and is not yet elite on that end. That said, a team with this frontcourt should not be a bottom 10 defense, and this is the primary reason for this team’s inconsistency so far this year.
Keys to the Game:
Turnovers. The Wizards have turned the ball over a combined 38 times over the last two games. It is imperative that they clean this problem up soon, as they likely won’t have Nene has an outlet in case plays break down. The offense will need to adjust to his absence by being less reliant on the bigs to create plays. While Gortat and Humphries, are adequate passers, neither have Nene's calming, commanding presence. John Wall needs to be especially careful with the ball, as he has been responsible for 12 turnovers in the past two games.
Defense. The Pelicans are a terrific offensive team, and the Wizards defense has been incredibly leaky the past 2 games, with putrid defensive ratings of 110.4 and 127.9 in the Atlanta and Cleveland games respectively. Nene has typically been the one to guard Anthony Davis, and he usually does a good job, as he is adept at both ball-denial and fighting through cross screens to stick to him. The Wizards likely will not have the luxury of Nene defending Davis, so it will take a team effort to contain him and the rest of the Pelicans offense. The Wizards also cannot afford to let other players go off. Wall has to be on his toes defending Jrue Holiday, a player who’s given him some trouble in the past. Ryan Anderson killed the Wizards when he was with the Magic, and if he’s in rhythm, the Pelicans will be very difficult to defend. The Wizards must not let him get any open looks or establish confidence from deep. Overall, the Wizards are going to miss Nene, and need to make up for this loss with solid team defense, something Randy Wittman has excelled at implementing in the past.
Aggressiveness. It might cliché, but there’s no other good word to describe it. The Wizards must take advantage of the Pelicans bottom 10 defense and cannot be as tentative and lethargic as they have been lately. Bradley Beal’s return to the starting lineup should give the Wizards impetus to run a lot more pick and roll, with him and Wall initiating. The Wizards will miss Nene's strong post presence, so the Wizards must adjust accordingly and run their offense through their guards. In turn, Wall and Beal must be aggressive in finding their shots, and decisive in their passes.
The Wizards must also look to run more and get opportunities in transition, where they excel. More open threes, more layups, more free throws, and less contested long twos are the recipe for success for this team offensively, and it’s high time they start realizing it. The bench, in particular, has played well lately, especially with Rasual Butler’s emergence. More production from him along with Drew Gooden III, Kevin Seraphin and Andre Miller is important. The Wizards have lost their best defensive player, so in turn, they must not only hold it together defensively, but make up for it with consistency on the offensive end.
I have a bad feeling about this one tonight, folks. Nene's absence is going to hurt as he has helped contain Anthony Davis in the past, and the Pelicans offense might be too much for the Nene-less Wizards defense. I think the Wizards will have a great game offensively, but will fall just short in a high scoring affair.