The Crystal Ball is a weekly Monday feature forecasting the future for the Wizards week ahead..
This week’s games:
March 3rd, at Chicago Bulls
March 6th, vs. Miami Heat
March 7th, at Milwaukee Bucks
Lets go Wiz!
Tuesday, March 3rd
AT the Chicago Bulls
What to watch: The Eastern Conference Standings. The Bulls are one of the teams the Wizards are still chasing. With Derrick Rose *and now Jimmy Butler* injured, there’s no reason the Wizards can’t catch Chicago (other than you know, playing horribly recently).
And the Wizards LOVE playing the Bulls! They seem to OWN the Bulls. Why? The Bulls are simply a good matchup for the Wizards. Like the Wizards, the Bulls like to play two big mean at a time. None of their top 3 big men (Gasol, Noah, Gibson) spend much time out on the perimeter. And their biggest advantage against every team, their size, is pretty much neutralized by Nene and Gortat. Watch this segway….
Key match-up: Nene vs. Noah and Gasol.
Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah have struggled terribly against Nene in recent games. Offensively, Gasol likes to use his size to get position, and then use his height to score over the top. But Nene is simply too strong for Gasol. He pushes Gasol far off his spots where he likes the ball, forcing Pau in to much lower percentage shots than he is used to.
- Gasol season averages: 18.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 49.7 FG%
- Gasol vs. the Wizards (3 games): 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 45.7 FG%
Defensively, Noah likes to use his activity and length to smother opposing big men. But Nene is simply too quick for Noah. He draws Noah further out than usual, then uses his first step to get around Noah. His length and strength make it impossible for Noah to recover.
- Nene season averages (last 2 seasons): 12.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 51.4 FG%
- Nene vs. Bulls (last years playoffs): 17.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 54.8 FG%
- Nene vs. Bulls (2 healthy games) this season: 14.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 55.0 FG%
NENE OWNS THE BULLS!
X-factor (s): Nikola Mirotic. This is the wildcard the Bulls can put on the floor for extended minutes, and cause the Wizards match-up headaches. Mirotic is a good 3-point shooter, but can also defend big guys pretty well, with his 6’10” frame. Mirotic has gone through some rookie ups and downs this year, on his way to posting the following underwhelming averages:
- 2014-15 season: 7.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 39 FG%, 34 3-FG%
He has been significantly better in wins than in losses, but still kind of underwhelming:
- In wins: 8.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 43 FG%, 36% 3FG
- In losses: 5.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 32 FG%, 28% 3FG
But Mirotic has also had the following games this season:
- 24 pts, 11 rebs vs. Portland
- 12 pts, 12 rebs vs. Brooklyn
- 27 pts, 8 rebs vs. Memphis
- 16 pts, 14 rebs vs. Milwaukee (just 4 games ago)
- 29 pts, 9 rebs vs. LA Clippers (on Sunday)
Mirotic is the classic stretch four, exactly the type that gives the Wizards fits. If the Wizards let him get going early, he could give them headaches all night. If they can force him into some early struggles, Thibs may pull the leash on him, and save the Wizards a lot of trouble.
1. Derrick Rose jokes. I don’t need to make suggestions here. Facebook and Twitter have this covered. Just make sure no one around you watching this game is deprived of any of the best Derrick Rose jokes you’ve seen.
2. Coach Thibs angry face. This guy will be up off the bench furious and screaming within 30 seconds of the opening tip. He will then maintain some sort of sour expression or another, without a break. His head looks like a tomato on the verge of exploding all over his suit for 2 and a half straight hours. It’s hilarious.
Prediction: Nene owns Gasol and Noah. Wizards own the Bulls.
Friday, March 6th
HOME vs. the Miami Heat
What to Watch: Miami Heat basketball? That’s a question. As in, as the Heat integrate Goran Dragic, will they start to resemble Eric Spoelstra’s Miami Heat Basketball? The other night, the Heat lost to the New Orleans Pelicans after D-Wade missed a last second three. In that game, Dragic scored 20 points, with a +/- of 10, the highest of any Heat player by far. All nine of his made FGs came on shots at the rim.
However, in the final two minutes, Dragic was at best a decoy, and at worst, a statue. He was just camping out in the corners (the very thing he was sick of doing in Phoenix), while Wade and Chalmers ran their sets. It resembled the early days of LeBron and Wade, when they would just take turns at the end while the other watched, except in this case, Dragic never got a turn. If this is still the offense the Heat are running when they come to DC, they will be much easier to guard, and the Wizards should have a solid defensive performance. But if Dragic has gotten more comfortable in Spoelstra’s “pace and space” offense, look out. The Heat may start to look like a much better team than their record indicates.
Key matchup: Wizards backcourt vs. Heat backcourt. Look at the combined stats of the Wizards starting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal: 32.1 points, 13.2 assists per game.
Look at the combined stats of the Heat backcourt before and after the Goran Dragic trade:
- Wade and Chalmers: 31.6 points, 9.4 assists per game.
- Wade and Dragic: 34.5 points, 10.6 assists per game.
Now, before you say, “well Dragic hasn’t played with Wade yet,” remember that Dragic had been sharing the ball with TWO other point guards in Phoenix. Last year, when he had only one other guard to share with in Bledsoe, he had a career year.
The Wizards are going to need to get the best of this match-up. Wall needs to put the pressure on Dragic, and force him to wear himself out defensively. Wade will never wear himself out defensively in the regular season, so Beal needs to take advantage. He should get a number of easy looks if he just keeps moving without the ball. He’s got to knock them down. Defensively, Beal HAS TO STAY DOWN! Wade pump fakes ALL THE TIME. He barely shoots anymore without pump faking first. But you can’t blame him. Everyone seems to bite, it gets him to the foul line, it gets his team in the penalty, and it gets his man in foul trouble. We’ve seen recently how badly the Wizards need Beal on the floor, and how badly they struggle without him. Beal can’t afford to let Wade goad him into fouls, and onto the bench.
X-factor: Hassan Whiteside.
If you haven’t heard about Hassan Whiteside yet, you’re not watching enough SportsCenter, PTI, Around the Horn, First Take…basically you don’t watch ESPN. The guy came out of nowhere and he’s been annihilating the league.
- November: DNP
- December: 3.1 pts, 3.9rebs, 1.1 blocks
- January: 13.0 pts, 10.6 rebs, 3.4 blocks
- February: 14.5 pts, 13.2 rebs, 2.5 blocks
Within the last 5 weeks, Whiteside has had the following games:
- 16 pts, 24 rebs vs. Dallas
- 24 pts, 20 rebs vs. Minnesota
- 14 pts, 24 rebs vs. Atlanta
Maybe Pat Riley left a bloody horse head in his bed to motivate him. I don’t know. But he wreaks a lot of havoc. The Wizards need to limit this havoc, particularly on the offensive glass, or they will be on the wrong end of another ESPN highlight.
Fun factor(s): Dwyane Wade drinking games! Take a drink every time Wade ends up on the ground. Take a drink every time Wade flops. Take a drink every time Wade pump fakes. Take a drink every time Wade is the last man to get back on defense. Then take a cab straight to the hospital for a liver transplant.
Prediction: Wizards lose. But it’s ok because you won’t remember if you play the Dwyane Wade drinking games.
Friday, March 7th
AT the Milwaukee Bucks
What to Watch: Again, the Eastern Conference Standings. This is a big week for the Wizards. With games against the Bulls and Bucks, this week could have a big impact on where the Wizards final seeding falls.
The Bucks are virtually even with the Wizards, but have gone about their business in a completely different way. All Wizards fans are well aware of the Wizards performance differentials between the first half of the season compared to second half, or between playing winning teams compared to losing teams. But the Bucks? The Bucks have been one incredibly consistently average team all season. Look at the Bucks record by month:
- November: 9-7
- December: 7-8
- January: 8-6
- February: 7-5
But the Bucks are just 2-4 since the All-Star break, as they try to adjust to life without their best player, Brandon Knight, after trading him in a complex deal that amounted to replacing him with last year’s rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams. Jason Kidd has done a great job getting the most out of a group of raw youngsters (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jon Henson) and random veterans you’ve heard of elsewhere (OJ Mayo, Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless). His challenge now will be to fit another raw youngster, MCW, into their thus far successful system.
At first glance, the numbers don’t look good: MCW is scoring just 10.3 points and dishing 5.0 assists, both far off his career averages, coupled with 2.7 turnovers in his first 3 games. However, he’s shooting 57%, WAY above his 39% career average, and has yet to attempt a 3. So it’s probably too early to tell.
This recent roster overhaul makes the Bucks ripe for the taking. The Wizards must take advantage to keep from slipping further down the playoff standings.
Key matchup: Wizards vs. Turnovers. This has been a match-up the Wizards have been losing badly in recent games, either in quantity (26 vs. Golden State), or in quality (choose your favorite crucial turnover at a critical time). The Bucks thrive on turnovers. MCW is at his best in the open floor. So is OJ Mayo. So is Giannis. If the Wizards keep the turnovers down, and force Milwaukee to play half court offense, they’ll have a great chance to win this game.
X-factor: OJ Mayo.
- In Wins: 13.6 points, 45% FG, 42% 3-FG
- In Losses: 9.7 points, 38% FG, 26% 3-FG
Unfortunately, we know streaky 3 point shooters love to be switched to “on fire” mode against the Wizards. If Mayo gets added to the list, so will another L in the loss column.
Fun factor: The Greek Freak! Remember while you watch this game that this kid is only 20 years old. He’ll play some point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and power forward. He’ll lead the break, he’ll run the wing, he’ll knock down jumpers, and he’ll post up. He’ll get steals on the perimeter and swat shots above the rim. He’ll make some incredible passes and some awe inspiring turnovers. At his best he’s captivating, and at his worst, he’s still captivating. Oh, and he was drafted 15th in the 2013 NBA draft. Otto Porter was drafted 3rd…maybe this should be another drinking game…
Prediction: Giannis has 2 crazy highlights that make Wizards fans spew “what ifs”, but the Wizards win.