Much of the conversation around the Wizards heading into the 2018 season has focused on their goal of reducing the team’s overwhelming reliance on mid-range jump shots.
Washington has done a good job of limiting those shots in the preseason, but when the Wizards led the Detroit Pistons 98-97 with only one minute remaining in the game, well, let’s just say old habits die hard.
Bradley Beal hit a step-back jumper from the baseline to make it 100-97 Wizards with 46 seconds to play, then John Wall drained his trademark fadeaway dagger from the right elbow to extend the lead to five in the closing seconds, securing a 102-97 Wizards victory over the Pistons on Wednesday night.
Wall was particularly excellent in his 32 minutes of action, notching 32 points, nine assists, and five rebounds. The star point guard’s commanding return is surely a welcome sight for Wizards fans, given that Wall had yet to play big minutes since his return from a summer spent working into good health and game shape. His dominant closing stretch included scoring 13 of the Wizards’ final 17 points in the 102-97 road victory, including the final dagger.
Goodnight, Detroit.— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) October 11, 2018
- John Wall pic.twitter.com/SnraCw3nAi
Though the Wizards finished with a narrow win, they actually led by double digits for a considerable portion of the game, with most of that lead having come from the team’s strong first half.
Beal started the game off with eight quick points, including a nifty spinning jumper in traffic, and the Wizards led 16-12 at the first substitution point. And after Ian Mahinmi committed three fouls in the first 4:30, Jason Smith entered the game and actually gave Scott Brooks great minutes throughout the night. A quick run by Detroit’s starters brought them back into the game, but the Wizards led 27-24 after the first quarter.
Notable during this stretch was that Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. were clearly given the freedom to repeatedly bring the ball up themselves, highlighting once again a clear point of emphasis for the Wizards coaching staff this offseason.
In the second quarter, Tomas Satoransky and the bench unit had perhaps their strongest showing yet in the preseason. Through coordinated defense and patient offense, the Wizards actually extended their lead — the bench executed a 13-4 run to open the second quarter against multiple Detroit starters. With 6:41 left in the first half, the Wizards held their largest lead of the night to that point at 40-28.
The Wizards starters, save for Mahinmi and Morris, then came back in, and mostly maintained the same energy until halftime. Midway through the contest, the Wizards held a solid lead of 54-45.
Coming out of the half, the Wizards offense started to heat up a bit. Back-to-back-to-back threes from Wall, Morris, and Beal pushed the Washington lead up to 65-41 at the first break. Everything was going smoothly. And then... Ish Smith happened.
Smith led an inspired Pistons unit to mount a comeback late in the third. After cutting the deficit to just five points after three quarters (79-74 Wizards), the Pistons completed their comeback and took an 82-81 lead just a few minutes into the fourth. There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the run—Smith kept the Pistons’ offense moving and cutting on one end, and shots finally began to fall for Detroit. On the other end, a more inspired Detroit lineup repeatedly turned the Wizards over during the dismal stretch.
The Detroit run turned to outright sloppiness early in the fourth, with neither team able to break free of the stalemate. Finally, Wall returned halfway through the fourth and began his reign of terror, ultimately resulting in the Wizards win.
Ian Mahinmi Needs to Curb his Fouling
With Dwight Howard sidelined for the preseason due to excessive discomfort in the rear, the Wizards need Ian Mahinmi to step up and perform like a potential starter. He had been up to the task through three preseason games, but there are still some reasons for caution regarding Mahinmi’s supposed improvement.
One of those reasons is Mahinmi’s propensity for fouling. Mahinmi committed 7.2 fouls per 36 minutes during the 2017 season, and that trend has continued in the 2018 preseason. Mahinmi committed five fouls in 21 minutes of game time against the Knicks on Monday and another five fouls in just 12 minutes of game time against Detroit.
Brooks sat Mahinmi for most of the game because of his issues, and Detroit’s Andre Drummond ate well as a result, finishing with 17 points and 20 rebounds. If Howard is going to be out for some time, then Mahinmi needs to find a way to curb his fouling issues, at least slightly.
Smith, operating as Mahinmi’s back-up, ended up fouling out in this one too, but at least gave the Wizards 27 minutes of solid play. And Jeff Green and Markieff Morris filled in admirably as reserve centers in limited action, including down the stretch.
Yes, fouls are called more often in the preseason, especially with the new freedom of movement emphasis this season—but this is still a key problem to watch for Mahinmi moving forward.
Competence From the Bench
In an interview Tuesday with CBS Sports, Austin Rivers expressed a great deal of (perhaps unearned) confidence in the Wizards’ second unit:
“That’s not gonna be a problem no more,” said Rivers, referring to Washington’s history of bench woes. “Our bench can be one of the more elite teams. This is why I think we have a chance to compete with the best teams: because of our depth.”
It would be a stretch to call the Detroit Pistons one of the “best teams,” but the Wizards bench certainly showed something Wednesday night in Detroit that’s been in short supply in recent years: competence.
With Mahinmi playing just 12 minutes due to his foul trouble, Smith stepped up with 14 points and six rebounds across his 27 minutes of work. Oubre had another tough shooting game, but ended up a plus-7 in the box score due to his hard work on the defensive end. The same went for Rivers and his backcourt mate Tomas Satoransky, each of whom finished with solid numbers and fit in well on the court.
The Wizards have had a great starting unit for a half-decade now—they just need the bench to hold the line while Wall and Beal rest. Hopefully, Wednesday’s win over Detroit is another step toward the second unit following through on Rivers’ promise to do so.
Next Up: The Wizards will close out their preseason slate by hosting the Guangzhou Long-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association on Friday night at 7 pm Eastern Time.