This is the Wizards reality: they're great when John Wall is great, and bad when John Wall is bad. There can be no slippage from their point guard, no lapse in effort, and certainly not an outing like tonight. There can be poor shooting nights like the one he overcame against Memphis two weeks ago, but if he's not putting his stamp on other facets of the game; i.e. collapsing the defense, kicking to shooters, and presenting the back-line defense with the threat of his dribble penetration, the Wizards are toast. Period.
The Wizards aren't just missing two rotation cogs in Bradley Beal and Nene, they're missing their second and third best creators offensively. With regards to tonight, it seemed as if they were missing all three, and one giant reason for that was Miami's starting center, a player who totaled just six points in 30 minutes of play.
We've seen this story unfold several times this season. The Wizards, tasked with facing an elite shot blocker in Hassan Whiteside, wanted nothing to do with attacking the basket tonight. So they didn't, and the results went as expected, well, except a second quarter which went beyond our wildest imaginations. An abhorrent two for twenty-two shooting display, featuring a flurry of off-balanced floaters, one-pass-and-shoot possessions with gobs of time left on the shot clock, and absolutely no semblance of their pick and roll game.
And it can all be traced back to John Wall, who treated the paint like it was hot lava tonight. There were far too many possessions where he didn't bother turning the corner off ball-screens, shocking considering how often Miami drops their big men into the lane against pick and rolls. The results were typical of a bad game from him, a bevy of mildly contested midrange jumpers and the like, but what's worse was how often he'd pass the ball off without even looking to probe the defense or break down his defender.
That type of apprehension plays into the Heat's hands. They were able to sit back, switch everything on the perimeter, and plant Whiteside under the rim. The Wizards did nothing to coerce him into help situations, choosing to fire away from midrange with no abandon. For all his acclaim as a great rim protector, the Heat defense is still better with him off the floor, a large factor in that being his inability to properly rotate into help position and his propensity to chase blocks.
The smart teams are the one's that leverage his shot blocking against him. And sure, had the Wizards not gone ice-cold so quickly to start, maybe things would've been different. Miami definitely knew what they were doing helping off the likes of Garrett Temple and Otto Porter, knowing full-well they were not a threat. But far too many possessions tonight stagnated as a result of no off-ball movement.
It doesn't help that the Wizards passed up open three-point looks in the first half in favor of off-the-dribble jumpers, or that they were significantly outmatched from a pure talent perspective. They've also put a heavy burden on their point guard, who played the second-most minutes out of the entire league in the month of December despite several nagging injuries. But for better or worse, their fate lies in Wall's hands. For now, they'll go as far as he can take them.