Performances like tonight's 99-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls are deflating. It's early in the season, Chicago is on a back-end of a grueling back-to-back having just faced the Raptors, and if we're being totally objective, there hasn't been many signature wins Washington can really hang their hat on. They've played one of the easiest schedules in the league to date, and are just finishing up a long home stand that has facilitated their fast start to the season.
That's the mystery behind these small sample sizes. We don't know how good this team is yet -- or whether they're a legitimate contender -- and tonight only furthered that stance.
Washington got off to another slow start, bricking away midrange jumper after midrange jumper and allowing Chicago to slowly work their way into the game. A six-point deficit at halftime felt more like 12, and for the better part of the third quarter when Chicago's reinforcements came in to spell the starters, the lead eventually did balloon to double-digits. The Wizards kept taking the same shots that ultimately doomed them in the first half, and they gave no indication that anything would change.
Only it did, with about 7:33 left in regulation, John Wall would knife into the lane through two backpedaling defenders, finding Rasual Butler for the three. It kickstarted John's own personal scoring binge late in the game that got the Wizards to within two, but eventually, the team just ran out of gas and had no answer for Derrick Rose, who would ice the game with a pair of floaters in the lane as well as a key jumper with 1:21 remaining.
Here's three things we learned:
Washington bigs didn't look nearly as skilled as Chicago's.
Randy Wittman went with his usual big men rotation tonight, and they went on to amass just 12 points on 6-20 shooting at halftime -- a key reason why the Wizards couldn't capitalize on Chicago's own slow start. Worse, all four of his big men took more attempts outside of the painted area than in, not including Kevin Seraphin who attempted a hook shot 8-feet from the hoop.
On the other end of the floor, we had the pleasure of watching Chicago deploy their bigs in more imaginative ways. Even their high-low sets - where a big man flashes to the high post and instantly dumps it down low - looked a lot more fluid than when Washington ran it, and it's because they had accompanying weak-side movement.
Gortat hasn't looked the same defensively for about two weeks. He's constantly leaning out of position against pick and rolls and putting the onus on his guards to fight through, which results in leaks all over the floor. Sometimes his defender will roll to the hoop unimpeded, or in tonight's case, you'll see a speedy guard like Aaron Brooks waltz right into the lane. This has to be cleaned up, especially if Nene continues to come off the bench.
But this is an indictment on Randy Wittman just as much as it is on his players' settling for mildly-contested looks. They're taking far-less threes than they should be, and they're perfectly content with their big men firing away in pick and pop situations. All of their go-to pet sets out of timeouts seem to be designed to get looks from midrange, which begs questioning just how much of their success out of timeouts have to do with the opposition conceding those looks.
John Wall scored 10 points in 120 seconds in the fourth quarter.
H/t to Truth About It for the stat.
Call it the Paul Pierce effect or whatever, there's something about him that's noticeably different now. He no longer goes through he motions in fourth quarters like he's so often fell into in the past, and better yet, he's pushing the pace when he knows the offense is toiling away. Team's can send defenders back, and balance the floor as well as humanly possible, but when Wall has a head of steam, he does things like this:
How many times have we seen him botch this exact same move in the past? His handle looks tighter, and he's picking his spots a lot better. Chicago's transition defense was flawless in the first half, but looked lost when Wall decided to take matters into his own hands.
Chicago has this team scouted.
If there's one thing you want to take from tonight, it's this. They have an answer for everything outside of Wall's full-court dashes (no one does), and save for that brief stretch where Washington incessantly attacked Mike Dunleavy Jr up and down the floor, they knew exactly how to keep the Wizards offense in check. It seemed like the shot clock was always winding down -- a rarity in this offense -- and they completely took away any clean three-point looks Wall thought he was getting.
But the silver lining is Paul Pierce. He didn't shoot the ball well, but he commands attention like Trevor Ariza couldn't, which for Jimmy Butler meant less time spent on shadowing Bradley Beal. When these two teams meet up again in two weeks, I expect this to play another huge role.