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We are getting close to the Christmas holiday and the start of 2016! It's been a busy week for the Wizards, where they are struggling to get past .500 after a tough November and start to December. Let's take a look at the top stories for this week.
Wizards go 2-2 since last Friday in a pair of back to backs
Last Friday, the Wizards defeated the Phoenix Suns, 109-106. In that game, Bradley Beal scored a season-high 34 points. They followed that up with a 116-104 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday which concluded with the Wizards letting Wesley Matthews explode for 28 second half points.
On Tuesday, the Wizards traveled to South Beach to the play the then-Southeast Division-leading Miami Heat on the road and won 114-103 playing tiny ball as Marcin Gortat was still out to see his ailing mother and Nene was also out due to a calf injury.
You would think that that could have helped Washington regain some momentum on Wednesday to host the Houston Rockets. And they were in good position to win, leading 99-97 with four minutes to go. However, James Harden's 42 points were enough to force Washington to lose 109-103.
Standings Update: Washington's still last in the Southeast Division, faces four consecutive Western Conference teams on the road starting tonight
The Wizards play the Pelicans tonight at 8 p.m. ET and will be on the road for the next week. Here's the lineup:
|Friday, December 11||at New Orleans Pelicans||(5-16)|
|Saturday, December 12||at Dallas Mavericks||(13-10)|
|Monday, December 14||at Memphis Grizzlies||(13-10)|
|Wednesday, December 16||at San Antonio Spurs||(18-5)|
Though the Pelicans are the "worst" team on this trip, they are just one year removed from a 2015 NBA Playoffs appearance. They have also recently won four of their last eight games though they have lost three of their last four.
If the Wizards are to get back to .500, they will have to win three games on this road trip, which will be a tall order for sure. It could also help them gain some standings in the Southeast Division, where everyone else is above .500 as of Thursday, December 10:
There are definitely reasons why the Wizards aren't in as much trouble as some may think partly because they have played the seventh-toughest strength of schedule according to Basketball-Reference. The other teams in the division have SOS rankings around the league average. The Magic has one of the lowest ranking SOS's in the league.
While SOS ranking is certainly one statistic to look at for context purposes, the Wizards' defense has also slipped and the offense is also not quite as efficient as it was last season. Therefore, I tend to side with the line of thinking that Washington is in legitimate danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
Sure, it's nice to see that the Wizards are still in the pack of the Eastern Conference in a tightly packed Eastern Conference despite their tough schedule. But the Wizards will only fall further behind with each passing loss.
Injury Report: Nene and Drew Gooden III are not traveling with the team for the road trip
The Wizards had to play much of last week without many true post players. Kris Humphries missed three of the last four games due to an ankle injury though he may be able to play Friday against the Pelicans.
Meanwhile, Nene hasn't played since November 27 and Drew Gooden III hasn't played since November 17 due to calf injuries. In fact, neither of them will travel with the Wizards on this road trip, according to J. Michael of CSN Washington:
The good news is that Marcin Gortat was able to return last Wednesday against the Houston Rockets after missing three games last week for his family matter. Sure, "cuteball" or "microball" was fascinating to see, but there comes a point where it is getting a little bit crazy.
John Wall survives a close call after getting injured on Sunday
The Wizards' star suffered a knee injury on Sunday in the fourth quarter of their loss to the Dallas Mavericks after bumping his knee on Jeremy Evans. Fortunately, he did not miss any games as he played against the Heat the very next day and scored 26 points in a big win. He also scored another 26 points on Wednesday against the Rockets.
Considering how banged up Washington has been this past week, they are very fortunate that Wall isn't out of commission. He has continued to play himself into WallStar form, but some of his skills weren't put to the best use on Wednesday, which Jake pointed out.
Gary Neal, how are you?
The reserve guard has played extended minutes over the last week where he scored in double figures in three of the Wizards' last four games including a 21 point performance on Monday. I pondered how sustainable his performance can be over the long haul.
I'm not the only one who took note of Neal's performance. Ben Mehic of Fansided's Wiz of Awes wrote that he is a legitimate sixth man this season. Like I noted earlier this week, even though Neal played at a high level over the past week, we can't expect him to shoot lights out over the long haul. From Mehic's piece:
With that said, this type of efficient shooting isn’t sustainable. Last season Rasual Butler was atop the league in 3-point percent, often sitting next to Stephen Curry and Kyle Korver on the rankings. Unfortunately, Butler regressed and was taken out of the team’s rotation.
I wouldn’t expect that sort of decline for Neal, but I also wouldn’t anticipate him hitting over 60 percent of his shots off the bench.
As long as Neal can improve on the "lows" that he will inevitably have, I would also agree with Mehic's assessment.
Kelly Oubre talks in-depth about his rookie season
Dan Roth of the Washington Times has a well-written column on Kelly Oubre who talks about his first season in the league.
Oubre talked about his time in college at Kansas, but he also shed some light on one of his rookie moments while defending Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant:
[Kobe] got me on the pump fake. He got me. He’s one of the greatest of all time, so I’ll chalk that up as that, but it was a great memory.
Other players, most notably Jared Dudley have praised Oubre's potential as a defender:
He has a chance to be an elite wing defender. His on-ball skills of lateral quickness, guarding the ball, getting steals on the ball and blocking shots on the ball from the weak side are very rare for a wing player and he possesses that.
Unlike John Wall or Bradley Beal, Oubre was never expected to contribute right away. But I definitely would like to see him develop into an elite wing defender that Washington has lacked since Trevor Ariza.
That's all I have in this roundup of storylines for the week. Enjoy the weekends, and let's get some big wins on this road trip.