It wasn't that long ago that there seemed to be no hope for our beloved Washington basketball team. After the last two weeks of playing some very competitive basketball and three straight blowout games in a row, it appears the slump has finally been shaken. Let's take a look at the damages shall we?
1. Since the Suns game on January 28th until the Bulls game on March 3rd (where I consider the slump to have began and ended) the Wizards had a horrendous 3-11 record.
2. The Wizards dropped from the 2-seed down to the 5-seed, falling behind Cleveland, Chicago, and Toronto.
3. We lost Bradley Beal, Garrett Temple, and Kris Humphries for extended periods of time.
4. The Fear the Sword Twitter account trolled us hard:
The meteor RT @CSAviate: who do i root for in that weak ass wizards-bulls game?— FearTheSword (@FearTheSword) March 4, 2015
Why does the Lion attack the smallest prey first RT @BulletsForever: Why does every team in the NBA plan special nights against the Wizards?— FearTheSword (@FearTheSword) March 8, 2015
We were hating on the Wizards before it was cool— FearTheSword (@FearTheSword) March 8, 2015
Yeah, things got dark there for awhile. Let's hope we're out of the woods, I don't know if I can handle another run of hopeless basketball.
On the bright side, despite all of the losing the Wizards are still in fairly good shape heading into the playoffs. We fell three seeds in the Eastern Conference standings, but because of Chicago and Toronto having slumps of their own we are only a game and a half behind them. Even Cleveland who has been red-hot since their little bowling trip in mid-January only have a 3.5 game advantage over us. Milwaukee has regressed and at the moment is no longer a threat to overtake our 5-seed. If they can continue the winning, Washington is poised to climb the standings in the East and regain some credibility.
Bradley Beal is back from injury, although he has not looked like himself (more on this later). Kris Humphries is still sidelined due to his mysterious groin issue. Humph has now missed 8 games in a row, and still does not have a timetable for his return. It's discouraging to not see him out there, especially since Nene has also had to miss time for personal reasons but I can't imagine he wouldn't be back in time for the playoffs. Garrett Temple is out indefinitely but his MRI apparently revealed very encouraging results. In his absence, the Wizards signed Toure' Murry to a 10-day contract to fill the role. Toure' has only gotten about 4 minutes of play time with the team thus far but I think he's a good short term pick-up. If the Wizards can stay relatively healthy until the end of the regular season and get Humph and Temple back on the court, I see no reason not to be bullish about the Wizards future. It certainly can't get as bad as it was in February again. *crosses fingers*
Photo credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
John's success this week has made him a no-brainer for the "trending up" award. There were times two weeks ago where John just did not appear to be engaged and even when he was, his body seemed to be holding him back. This week has been an entirely different story. Not only has John been engaged, but he's back to doing the acrobatic finishes that he does so well. Statistically he has improved in each consecutive game, culminating in the masterpiece we saw last night against the Kings. He rounded out his stat sheet well with 22 points, 9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. However, what really made this week stand out for John is his red-hot shooting hand. Wall shot 65% from the field and a ludicrous (for him anyways) 67% from 3-point territory. The swagger with which he shot last night was downright contagious:
Many of you would agree, but I don't think it's any coincidence that the Wizards turning a corner this week coincided with the uptick in John Wall's play. This team lives and dies by the performance of it's floor general, which is problematic. But when John is on, the Wizards can be a very scary team for anybody to face. Let's just hope that he can keep turning it on when late April/May roll around.
Photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
It's no secret that Bradley Beal has been slumping since returning from injury two weeks ago. His numbers have dropped to that of a mediocre shooting guard. What the Wizards need the most from Beal is a shot in the arm in the form of three-point shooting, and he just has not delivered on that front. Since his return, Beal has shot a paltry 21% (5-24) from downtown. That extra offense is crucial if the Wizards want to make a run in the playoffs, since Pierce is the only other player who can be relied on for the long ball. If you factor in the rest of his shots from the field, he has shot a somewhat more respectable 37% but those numbers are not going to cut it for our young star player.
It's worth pointing out that the Wizards have gone 5-1 since Bradley's return (he didn't play against the Bucks) and the offense has not suffered with him in the game, probably because we have no offensive threat to replace him. His mere presence can stretch the floor because defenders still have to respect him, which can open up driving lanes for Wall. I have faith he will shake off this shooting slump before playoff time, and once those shots start falling the Wizards will be back to full capacity on offense. It will need to happen soon though. There is a lot of talk about him getting a max deal come re-signing time, and if he wants to really earn it now is the time to step up. Keep your head up Big Panda.
Coming into this past week, things were looking dark. John Wall was a shell of himself, and the Wizards were clinging for dear life to a 1.5 game lead over the Bucks for the 5-seed. The light at the end of the tunnel for this slump was beginning to look the size of a pinhole. Washington needed a strong week to show the fans and even themselves that they could still be competitive in the East.
Photo credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Optimism for Monday night's game was at a depressing low. Despite being a sub-par team, the Hornets had won 5 straight against the Wizards dating back to January 7th of 2014. The Wizards were also riding a 9-game losing streak on the road, so going into Charlotte was viewed as a death march. Much to everyone's surprise Washington came out swinging with a 36-point 1st quarter to take the lead by 15. Charlotte showed some fight in the 2nd by getting within 10 but after the break the Wizards never really looked back. Wiz won comfortably 95-69.
John Wall got things going early with an 11 point, 2 steal 1st-quarter and looked like he was finally back to his old self for a bit. He cooled down in the second half but still had the very respectable stat line of: 15 points on 7-11 shooting, 9 assists, 3 steals, and a block. Marcin Gortat stole the show for the Wizards, posting his 9th 20-point game of the season. You would've liked for him to be more active on the boards (7 rebs), but to make up for it he notched 2 steals. Despite the blowout, there were still some troubling signs in this game. The Wizards shot 14% from three (!) and only got to the line 5 times (!!) throughout the contest. If the starters and Kevin Seraphin hadn't shot a red-hot 63% from the field this game could have been another mediocre showing. Lord knows the reserves weren't going to get the job done, everyone on the bench not named Kevin shot 27% from the field.
But overall you cannot complain about a comfortable W. Especially over a team which has owned the Wizards as thoroughly as the Hornets have on the road. Steve Buckhantz summed it up as well as anyone could have: "The Wizards with a statement victory, and not necessarily to anyone else in the league, but to themselves."
Photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Thursday night's match-up had the potential to be a big measuring stick game for the Wizards. The Memphis Grizzlies are the 2-seed in the West and very real contenders for the Larry O' Brien trophy. The fact that the game would be broadcast nationally on TNT as well as be a home game for the Wizards just raised the stakes even further. Somewhat surprisingly, the Grizzlies decided that the Wizards were enough of a rollover team that they rested Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Tony Allen despite none of them having any tangible injuries. Mike Conley sat as well due to a twisted ankle. I'll let Stephen A. Smith explain this move to everyone:
Well, credit the Wizards for making the Grizzlies pay for that disrespect. Washington started off slow by allowing Memphis to score 33 points in the opening quarter, taking on a 7-point deficit. After the 1st however, it was all Washington. They outscored Memphis in each of the remaining quarters, including an inspired 2nd quarter which saw the Wiz outscore their opponent by 20. John Wall played a phenomenal 30 minutes despite some defensive lapses early. On 8-11 shooting John got 21 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks (both on the same play!!). Considering he did all of this and still got to sit for the last 15 minutes of the game, that's a pretty damn impressive stat line. Wall was only outshined by his PnR partner-in-crime Marcin Gortat. The Polish Machine continued his streak of impressive games by posting a 22 point, 9 rebound, 3 steal, 3 block game. He also made the Grizzlies reserve Center Kosta Koufos look like a punk for most of the contest. Koufos (pronounced "coofus" as in "doofus") got into foul trouble early and wasn't much of a factor afterwards. The starters played very well except for Bradley Beal who just did not look like himself throughout the contest, which is becoming an unfortunate trend.
Overall, the Wizards made the Grizzlies look very silly for resting their starters and that's all you can ask for. Washington won 107-87 behind solid defense outside of the 1st quarter. The Wizards left everyone at the Phone booth smiling, well except for maybe Otto Porter:
I guess that kind of looked like a smile. Maybe.
Photo credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Saturday night started in a very rough way for the Wizards. Sacramento was playing their 8th road game in the past 12 nights, but it wasn't them that came out sluggish. The Wizards looked completely apathetic to the butt-kicking the Kings were forcing upon them. Washington's defense was non-existent as they allowed their opponent to shoot nearly 60% from the field for 64 points. DeMarcus Cousins came out swinging by scoring 21 points in the first half, and doing this to John Wall:
Apparently, Randy Wittman was less than pleased about his team's effort. After the game Randy admitted he might have been to hard on his team, saying "I've got to go to church tomorrow because of some of the things I said and thought at halftime." But apparently whatever expletive laced rant our head coach went on during the break worked, because the Wizards absolutely dominated the second half.
Washington shot a scorching 61% from the field after the break, erasing the 21-point deficit they had created for themselves in the first half and then some. The Wizards were led by an inspired John Wall who ended up with 31 points and 12 assists. John also got red-hot from long range on 4-5 shooting. Rasual Butler looked like his old self from the beginning of the season and scored 14 points (his most in 5 weeks) to go with 5 rebounds. Paul Pierce contributed 17 points to the cause as well. One of the most notable things from the game was how many threes they jacked up. The Wizards shot 26 3-pointers and made 13 of them which is a season high. Hopefully that continues to be the trend. The one bummer of this game was that Bradley Beal continued to slump. Beal shot 30% from the field and went 2-6 from deep. What will drag the Big Panda out of this rut? Read the recap here.
There's good news and bad news. The good news is that the Wizards will have another week of only three games with no back-to-backs. The bad news is it will be against some very tough Western Conference competition. Two of the three games are also on the road, which has become a major weakness for Washington. It will be an uphill battle for them to continue this positive momentum they've been gathering.
Photo credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The Portland Trailblazers are currently standing on top of the brutal slug-fest that is the 3-7 seeds in the Western Conference. They are currently contending with Houston, LA Clippers, San Antonio, and Dallas for that coveted 3-seed. The loss of Wesley Mathews is devastating for Portland, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. Arron Afflalo will attempt to fill the void left by Mathews, but it remains to be seen if he's up to the task. The Wizards will also luck out and get the Blazers on the second half of a back-to-back, while having a days rest themselves. This game will also be the lone contest this week at the Phone Booth, so the Wizards should take advantage. Washington needs this one badly because what follows is an extended road trip on the West Coast. It's a toss-up for me, but I'll go on record and say that the Wizards win a close one.
Photo credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday the Wizards will begin their long road trip in Utah. The Jazz are very much out of playoff contention, but they are still a very dangerous team. The emergence of Rudy Gobert has sparked some very inspired basketball in Salt Lake CIty. Since the Jazz traded Enes Kanter and Gobert got the starting nod, Utah has gone 10-2 and their defense has been beyond elite. So despite the opposition's record, don't fool yourself into thinking this will be a walk in the park for the offensively challenged Wizards. Our shooters will have to get hot from long range, because getting into the paint against the Jazz has been a nightmare for most teams around the league. The good news is that offensively the Jazz are one of the worst in the NBA with 95.3 points per game. If the Wizards can play some shut down defense of their own, this game is certainly an attainable win. Expect a low-scoring affair, but the Wizards to squeak by with another victory to start off this road trip.
Photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Friday's match-up against the Clippers should be a fun one. Seeing John Wall go mano y mano against Chris Paul is always a treat because you can tell both guards treat it as a statement game. Last time we saw the Clippers John got the upper hand turning in a 10 point, 11 assist, and 2 block stat line while pestering Paul on defense all game. While we were happy to see John finally get one over on CP3, the real hero of that game was Bradley Beal. Beal went bananas with a 29 point outing, fueled mostly by 4-7 shooting from long range and getting to the line 8 times. John Wall and the Wizards snapped a 9-game Clippers winning streak by winning fairly comfortably 104-96. It would be nice if Beal could have a similar game on Friday to snap out of his recent funk, but at this point I wouldn't count on it. Much of the responsibility will once again fall on John to outplay his rival point guard. I have a feeling that Chris Paul will get the better of Wall this time around, and the Clippers will come away with the win.
In Case You Missed It:
Randy Wittman is not the most "in-touch" coach in the NBA. Read Mike Prada's write-up here.
Wittman: "Pull up the internet. There are a lot of teams bitching and complaining at each other, the way that they’re playing. It happens."— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) March 11, 2015
Garrett Temple pulls hamstring, Otto Porter comes to help out.
Temple pulls up with hamstring, Otto makes things worse by landing on him #SoWizards https://t.co/dPy2nZ2xEd— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) March 10, 2015
The Wizards take my advice and go bowling at the White House. You're welcome Randy.
John Wall blocks two shots on the same possession like a boss.
Kevin Seraphin got a little too rough on this play. Flagrant 2 & ejection.
It's getting u-g-l-y in here. #KSLife pic.twitter.com/dpwQOGS0V7— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) March 13, 2015
Paul Pierce's reaction to Otto's missed dunk is priceless. He seems to be mouthing "Shaqtin' A Fool!"
John Wall settles the "Can Kentucky beat the 76ers" debate once and for all.
John Wall, on @dpshow if Kentucky could beat the 76ers: "We lost to the 76ers."— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) March 13, 2015
Andre Miller had a scary moment with a slick floor at the Verizon Center.
John Wall and the Wizards have risen from the dead. GET HYPED!
Comment Of The Week:
This comment by TruWizFan42 was in response to Jake Whitacre's article "No, the Grizzlies didn't disrespect the Wizards by sitting their starters". Personally, I completely agree with the sentiment (sorry Jake!). I love that John can use what he interprets as disrespect as fuel to drive his play.