Life on the road didn’t get any easier for the Washington Wizards as they dropped their 19th consecutive game away from the Verizon Center. In a similar fashion of many of their other road losses, the Wizards had a chance to close out the game late but struggled amidst turnovers and mental mistakes.
Experiencing their own losing streak, The Minnesota Timberwolves came out focused and determined to snap their current five game losing skid. Third year star Kevin Love set the tone early scoring 14 of his game-high 35 points in the first quarter. Darko Milicic chipped in with 14 points and 11 rebounds of his own.
Without starting Power Forward Andray Blatche, who missed the game due to a shoulder injury he sustained against Sacramento, Washington was consistently out-worked on the backboard. The Wizards gave up 15 offensive rebounds while only collecting 6, and were out rebounded overall 47 to 38.
JaVale McGee matched Minnesota’s block count at three, but the young center had another disappointing outing managing only five points for the night.
Last November, Love scored 31 points and grabbed 31 rebounds in a historic game against the Knicks. McGee, impressed by Loves performance expressed his admiration by tweeting,
“Definently(his spelling not mine) enrolling in K.Love’s school of rebounding online…. bout to watch these 31 and 24 rebounding games… especially after 2 rebs.”
Love gave McGee a front-row seat by forcing three quick fouls that held JaVale to 17 minutes and kept him on the bench for most of the night.
For all of their struggles, the Wizards managed to erase the deficit and even lead Minnesota 94-90 with 5:46 remaining in the 4th quarter.
Momentum quickly shifted back to the Timberwolves though as they finished the game out on a 19-3 run, including a pair of 3-pointers from the versatile Love who shot 5 of 6 beyond the arc.
Playing for 48 minutes:
Both of these teams have struggled all year in terms of closing out games. Tonight the Wizards came out flat and often looked confused, especially on the defensive end. Poor defensive rotations allowed a flurry of easy lay-ups early for the Timberwolves, leaving Washington in a hole they were never able to completely dig out of. It was clear that the early success of the Timberwolves carried over to the end of the game, where Washington looked gassed and out of sorts while the Minnesota continued to control the tempo.
Post Presence and Team D
So how exactly do the Wizards solve their problems in the paint? I don’t believe the answer is currently on the roster.
JaVale McGee is a talented shot blocker and has the potential to be one of the most dominant defensive players in the NBA but his game, at least on defense, is in the mold of a Marcus Camby. Just like Camby McGee can be an intimidating shot blocker, especially on the weak-side in defensive rotations. Where McGee struggles is when he has to battle with wide-bodied space eaters who out muscle and over power him.
If the Wizards want to start protecting the paint, it won’t be as easy as just signing a free agent or drafting a big-man like Ohio States’ Jared Sullinger, though that is part of the solution. The team must collectively buy into playing better defense, particularly on the road.
If you don’t count the over time thriller against the Sacramento Kings, the Wizards have held their last 6 home opponents to an average of 86 points-per-game. During that same span they have allowed almost 102 points on the road. They are night and day in terms of team defense at home and away.
Young teams like the Wizards often struggle on the road, which isn’t a surprise when you consider most guys on this team have not even had a full season’s experience playing together. I don’t see help coming in terms of personnel this season, so these improvements must come from within the team.
Injuries and John Wall
Andray Blatche and his 8.2-rebound per game could have provided a boost for the Wizards, but it’s doubtful that even with Blatche they could have contained Kevin Love. The self-described finesse player’s game is very similar to another player who also missed this game, Minnesota’s Michael Beasley. Both players have the size and strength to make an impact in the post but too often they rely on their jump shots to get by. Blatche is expected to suit up for the teams’ next game in Toronto against the Raptors.
Many teams around the league have quickly learned that when they press John Wall, he can blow right by them with his speed so they’ve started backing off and letting him shoot. Against the Timberwolves, Wall had numerous open looks but more often than not he elected to pass the ball to teammates instead of taking the shot. Even in the shots he did take, there didn’t seem to be a sense of confidence or poise that they were going to go in. Until he starts consistently knocking down these open jumpers, teams will continue to clog the paint and leave him open. John has to learn how to score when he’s not on the fast break.
To his credit, it’s clear that Wall is still limited by his injuries. I believe these are hindering him more so on the defensive end though, as John has struggled to keep up with quicker guards. His lateral quickness should return as his health improves, but John must also get out of this habit of playing ‘free safety’ on defense. What I mean by that is that Wall often shies off of his man in order to help teammates. This is a bad habit to have in the NBA, where almost any starting point guard in this league can light up the scoreboard if given the space and opportunity.
Wall has the tools to become a lock-down defender that consist of his 6’9” wingspan, his quick feet and his natural ability to read passing lanes. His 1.8 steals-per-game would rank him in the top ten of all players, but he hasn’t fulfilled the minimum amount of time played in order to be considered. Moving forward, Wall must realize that the best way to help your team is by sticking to your assignment, once he commits to that he should be a force on the defensive end.