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Game Notebook 49, Wizards vs. Hornets: Desperation, despondency, and despair

Hornets 92
Wizards 88

February 2, 2015 – Verizon Center, Washington, DC

A state of desperation, despondency, and despair.

“The key to tonight was that we don’t play hard anymore. That falls on me.”
– Randy Wittman

“The biggest thing I think is we’re not focused enough. We’re not hungry.”
– Bradley Beal

“Tonight we didn’t compete for 48 minutes. That’s the biggest key.”
– John Wall

The sense of disquiet in the locker room was all but kept quiet after the Wizards fell to the Hornets, and fell for the third game in a row. Players admitted their lack of exertion; the coach took blame for lack of preparation; and the superstar emphasized the importance of playing a complete game.

What began as a small dumpster fire with the loss to Oklahoma City two weeks ago has now spread into a blaze of turmoil and concern for the Wizards after three consecutive losses and five of their last seven. Folding inside a shell of lazy defense and wishy washy and ineffective offense, the Wizards have lost a bit of ground after a historic start to the season.

Oh, and about that historic start to the season. This is probably a proper moment to recall the lack of conviction most fans felt during that stretch, even when the Wizards had won 10 of 11 games. We can understand why now after the Wizards have continuously proved their inability to overcome matchups against higher tier opponents. This latest funk, driven by losses to Phoenix, Portland, and a surging Hornets team, has confirmed that. But hey, thank God they’re only playing the Hawks tomorrow night.

It’s hard to really chalk up the Wizards’ struggles to just offense or defense. It’s definitely both, however, defensively is where I feel the team has put themselves in this black hole of impotence, with the offense failing to make up for it. Last night’s loss to the Hornets was descriptive of this.

Here are my takeaways:

The first half.

The Wizards were actually in tune offensively in the first half. They scored 51 points on 45 percent shooting; made four 3-point shots; got to the line 14 times and made 79% of their free throws. They committed just five turnovers. John Wall had five assists in the 1st quarter alone, with two of them leading to both of Paul Pierce’s three’s.

Also, this Otto Porter buzzer-beater to end the 1st.

The problem in the first half, however, was the Wizards’ inability to stop anything the Hornets were doing. Charlotte poured in 53 points of their own on 54 percent shooting, shot a few less 3’s but also committed a few less turnovers. The key for them was moving the ball around and getting everyone involved. The pattern of the Charlotte players’ first half scoring output makes for a good question on an IQ test: 10, 9, 8, 8, 6, 6, 4, and 2.

A bad, bad 3rd quarter.

For the first six minutes of the second half, the Wizards totaled three turnovers, six missed shots, a technical foul, and zero points. The Hornets, meanwhile, scored 10 points during that span to take a 12 point lead, 63-51. You could say this is pretty much where the Wizards lost the game. The dejection that transpired from this awful drought was irrecoverable. Gortat looked completely out of sorts offensively, making minimal efforts to produce in the post before casually passing the ball away. John Wall got nailed with an offensive foul in transition. Later, Wall ran the ball on the fast break, zipped a clean pass crosscourt to a wide open Beal, who then bricked a 3. Then Pierce’s offensive foul and the ensuing tech. Luckily, the Hornets are some hot garbage on offense too because the lethargic way the Wizards were playing, any other team with a better offense than Charlotte’s would have never allowed the Wizards to get back in it.

But the Wizards did, managing to end the quarter hitting 7 of 13 after that 0-6 start. They went on a 15-7 run and cut the deficit to 4 going into the 4th but again, way too many possessions throughout the game and especially in that final period were portrayed by a general lack of energy and interest.

A new Wizards Killer: Brian Roberts

This is more like Wizards Suicide because you really can’t give all the credit to Roberts alone. Just watch the video. Besides a nice contested jumper he knocked down over Kris Humphries, the rest of it is all him simply reacting to how poorly he was being defended. Slow transition defense left him open for PUJITS. A complete nonexistence of closing out left him wide open for 3s. Losing his defender around screens or simply blowing by them with a quick first step got him buckets at the rim. Roberts finished with 18 points off 10 shots.

Should there be concern?

The Wizards’ struggles have obviously indicated a sense of unease for us all. It’s easy to say that “it’s a long season” or that “we’re still 31-18” or “hey, look at where we came from.” Sure, yeah, those are all fair points, and satisfying ones, but the concern is when and how the Wizards will resurge back to their ways of early season success.

For me, it begins with the health of John Wall. It’s been a few games now where John has been labeled as a game time decision, suffering from a combination of migraines and sore legs. His greatness continues to glow through his aches and pains as he remains as effective as he possibly can endure, and his numbers show it.

Next up, Randy Wittman. How well is this team getting prepared mentally through these tough stretches of the season? The West Coast road trip was a tolling one and evidently, the Wizards haven’t recovered. And don’t blame the jet lag either. The Wizards have dumbed down over the past seven games, and their two *soft* wins versus the Nuggets and Lakers don’t offer much justice either. The fact of the matter is the Wizards need a bounce back game ASAP – they play the Hawks tomorrow – before any propensity for a locker room implosion comes about. The good news is that Wittman, normally not a blame-taker, did in fact put the Wizards’ slide on himself, which gives me hope that he’ll reevaluate and readjust how he prepares for games here on out. Maybe.

Marcin Gortat’s production in a game is usually derivative of how he starts the game. Time and again we’ve seen Gortat play dejectedly and out of sorts after things don’t going his way. A bunny at the rim; a misfired jump shot; getting handled on the glass; the offense not running him on pick-and-rolls with Wall; or not getting a call, these are all symptoms of Gortat dejection and quite frankly, it is imperative for him to try and overcome all of that. Basing off the last seven Wizards games, Gortat had decent outings versus OKC, the Lakers and Phoenix, but his numbers over the other four games: NO BUENO. He’s shot 7-23 for 17 points.

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