On Tuesday night, Randy Wittman rolled out an interesting lineup late in the game to try to get back into it against the Bulls. Nene was on the bench after fouling out, and rather than go big with Drew Gooden and Marcin Gortat down low, Wittman opted to go small with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Paul Pierce and Marcin Gortat.
Over the next 3 minutes and 53 seconds, the Wizards outscored the Bulls 13-7 (here's the box score from that stretch). Keep in mind that was with Aaron Brooks hitting an ill-advised three that John Wall contested fairly well, as well as Bradley Beal missing a good look that could have tied the game.
Yes, we realize this is an incredibly small sample ... But the results here are really encouraging for a team that's been desperate to find an effective small ball lineup. What's especially encouraging is how the unit was able to get the job done offensively and defensively.
Let's break down one play from the run, using NBA.com's Player Movement (you can watch video of the play here):
Paul Pierce has the ball up top off a pick and pop with John Wall. Since he's playing the four, he's being guarded by Nikola Mirotic. Pierce then backs him down to the high post and goes to take the shot, but then kicks it out to Beal.
Snell does a good job of driving Beal off the line, but at the same time, Mike Dunleavy (34 in blue) is running back out to try and cover Otto Porter in the corner. That opens up the lane for Beal to get the easy layup on Pau Gasol.
This play doesn't work with Nene or Kris Humphries on the floor instead of Pierce.
Defensively, the small ball lineup also did wonders in slowing the Bulls down. Yes, part of that was baiting Aaron Brooks into some poor shots (he shot 2-6 against the lineup), but when the ball went into Nikola Mirotic, the Wizards were ready.
On Mirotic's first attempt, they isolated him on the low block against Pierce, which though it seems like a matchup Chicago could exploit, Mirotic wound up shooting a contested fadeaway on Pierce that didn't go in.
Later on, the Bulls countered the Wizards going small by going big with Mirotic, Gasol and Noah. On this play they ran a nice pick and roll to catch Otto Porter out of position and get Mirotic driving to the hoop.
But as Mirotic went up, he was cut off by Beal, who forced Mirotic into a wild shot. Even though Beal is a shooting guard, he's strong enough to disrupt shot attempts by bigger players with his body.
Being able to switch is crucial for a small ball lineup, and Beal showed here's he's up to the challenge, even against the 6'10" Nikola Mirotic.
Believe it or not, this was the first time all season the Wizards have used Wall, Beal, Porter, Pierce and Gortat together on the floor at the same time. This is despite the fact that Paul Pierce and Otto Porter have a better net rating than any other two-man pairing on the team that's played at least 100 minutes together.
Part of the fear of trotting out this lineup is certainly connected to not having Nene, their best defender, on the floor. But this lineup's ability to switch and cover multiple positions is more might be more useful than Nene's ability to clean up mistakes. In late-game situations when opposing teams roll with more exotic lineups, it's important to have versatile defenders who make switches as needed to shut plays down.
This lineup isn't a cure-all for the Wizards' defensive struggles in the fourth quarter, but it's a step in the right direction. Though it may have taken 61 games, Nene fouling out and Kris Humphries being injured for the team to try this lineup out, there's no reason why it should take 61 more minutes of playing time before we see them try it again.