Randy Wittman wasn't accepting Nene's absence as a reason for the Wizards recent defensive woes prior to playing New Orleans "You (the media) like giving excuses for these guys..That's got nothing to do with it. We've got guys who are capable of playing defense and not turning the ball over."
In the Wizards two losses against Atlanta and Cleveland, the Wizards defense had floundered, a recipe for defeat given the team's generally anemic offense. Coming into Saturday's game, the Wizards had yet to demonstrate in their 3 contests without Nene that their defense could overcome their offense's shortcomings. The Pelicans offense and their MVP candidate power forward Anthony Davis would pose a tough challenge
It was a challenge the Wizards were up for Saturday night in Washington, as Washington's stout defense held the Pelicans to just 80 points on 37 percent shooting in snapping their first losing streak of the season.
In an ugly game unlikely to be featured on ESPN Classic any time soon, Washington's front court contained Davis as much as he can be contained, and the rest of his supporting cast failed to make the Wizards pay. The rest of the Pelicans only managed 19 of 63 on the night as the Pelicans were held to their lowest point output on the season.
Perhaps no sequence better exemplified the Wizards toughness on defense than a key play late in the 4th quarter. With the Wizards holding precariously to a 4 point lead with 2 minutes left, Tyreke Evans found Pelicans sharpshooter Ryan Anderson in the corner off a Davis screen on a play designed to get Anderson an open look. Paul Pierce recovered quickly from the Davis screen and closed out to block Anderson's shot out of bounds. Pierce then ably defended a Tyreke Evans drive that resulted in a miss off the backboard. By the time Anthony Davis recovered the basketball and turned around to shoot, the shot clock has expired.
What was the difference for the Wizards after giving up 106 and 113 against the Hawks and Cavaliers? Stopping the Pelicans from scoring in the paint and better communications and less switches on defense were factors consistently mentioned by Wizards players and coaches.
"Defensively we got back to what we talked about. I thought, 48 minutes, that was good." Randy Wittman said following the victory, "That team by far leads the league in points in the paint. What'd they get, 28?"
Gortat echoed Wittman's praise of the team's defense on Davis and overall:
"We have to understand that he's going to get buckets from his position, athleticism and skill. I think we talked, we were more physical. We definitely had rebounds, we were battling, all 5 guys."
The Wizards improved communication on defense caught the notice of Wittman:
"It was better, we still had a couple of lapses. Our guys were mindful of it coming into tonight, which is a good thing. I've got to make sure to keep them mindful, because it's a conscious thing."
The Wizards players showed their mindfulness of communication, which each player after the game mentioning it as helping their defensive performance on the night. According to John Wall, "We stuck to what our coach gave us against them. Other games, we were switching everything we weren't supposed to. It makes it tough, whenever a big gets on a guard, that's tough to contain. We just want to stick with our guards on guards and push it late in the shot clock, and I think we did a better job of communicating."
This was something that was noticeably different from their losses last week, where Wizards bigs were forced to defend smaller, quicker players on the perimeter.
On a night when the Wizards offense was once again underwhelming, it was this improved effort on defense that allowed Washington to avoid a three game losing streak.
"This was going to be a knock down, drag out game," Wittman stated. "They're not all going to be pretty from an offensive standpoint, but you got to be able to win some of those."
If there is one thing we have learned about the Wizards in the early going, it's that the wins aren't going to all be pretty.