The Crystal Ball is a weekly Monday feature forecasting the future for the Wizards week ahead..
This week’s games:
March 23rd, at Golden State Warriors
March 25th, vs. Indiana Pacers
March 27th, vs. Charlotte Hornets
March 29th, vs. Houston Rockets
Lets go Wiz!
Monday, March 23rd
AT the Golden State Warriors
What to watch: Championship caliber basketball. Unfortunately, this will be provided by the opponent. You know when you get your Lexus freshly washed and buffed, take it out on a sunny day, and start feeling really good about yourself? Then a brand new Bentley pulls up next to you, and suddenly your Lexus and your life feel completely inadequate? That’s how it’s going to feel as a Wizards fan watching the Warriors offense during this game. Our team is not bad, and our team has been playing pretty well.
But our team simply does not play offense like the Golden State Warriors. Even without Klay Thompson, Steve Kerr’s squad balls out, and he provides them the freedom to do so. Everyone knows about Steph Curry. Whatever. Watch Draymond Green get a rebound and run the break. Then watch Andrew Bogut do the same damn thing. Watch the ball swing side to side WITHOUT STOPPING! There is no stagnation in the Warriors offense. There is rarely any indecisiveness. There is constant imagination. Curry is a fun passer sometimes, particularly his left handed behind the back passes. But so is Andrew Bogut on the interior. So is Draymond Green from wherever he’s playing at the time. So are Shawn Livingston and Andre Iguodala off the bench.
Their versatility is ridiculous, and the way Kerr puts them in place without putting them in shackles is tremendous. Do some neck and shoulder stretches before tip-off of this one Wizards Nation. You’re going to be doing a lot of SMH-ing.
Key match-up: Wizards vs. themselves.
The tone for this game is going to be set early. The Wizards will be completing a four game West Coast road trip, on the second night of a back-to-back, against the best team in the NBA. They have every excuse to lose. That tends to lead to one of two options: Option A: The team is galvanized, they take on the “nobody believes in us” mindset, and come out and shock the world. Option B: The team is galvanized, they take on the “nobody believes in us” mindset, then the game starts badly, and they stop believing in themselves, and get blown out. I’m hoping for Option A. I’m bracing for Option B.
X-factor: Home court advantage. This, above all else, is the reason for my pessimism. The Golden State Warriors are 33-2 at home this season. Their +15.3 point differential at home is not just the largest margin in the league by far this season; it’s currently the highest margin in 19 years; it’s currently the highest margin since the Chicago Bulls team that went 72-10. So yea…
Fun factor: Vines!
Remember when they used to call the Hawks arena “Highlight Factory”? They should call Oracle Arena “The Vine Factory.” Get your phones charged and your DVRs ready. Curry will do his thing. Wall will do his thing. Green and Nene could definitely get into something. Ditto for Bogut and Gortat. Good Vines!
Prediction: Warriors improve their home point differential.
Wednesday, March 25th
HOME vs. the Indiana Pacers
What to Watch: Welcome home! Look for the Wizards to be rejuvenated and ready to go! The Pacers mark the start of a five game home stand (four of the five opponents have a losing record).
An energized Wizards team should systematically dismantle the Pacers. And therein lies the challenge. The Pacers are a well-coached, disciplined team that does not beat themselves. They do everything systematically, and force their opponents to do the same. They are 3rd in the league in points allowed, 9th in the league in defensive rating, and 4th in the league in FG% defense.
But the Pacers can’t score. They rank 24th in points scored, 24th in offensive rating, and 23rd in FG%. With the Wizards defense as good as it is, particularly at home, they should handle the Pacers like they have in the previous two meetings.
But then again, there’s a reason #SoWizards exists. Because the Wizards find ways to even out games like this with sloppy execution, turnovers, defensive lapses, and poor coaching. Watch with caution.
Key matchup: Frank Vogel vs. Randy Wittman.
Randy Wittman! The great equalizer! Nothing balances out a match-up like disjointed offensive sets, inconsistent substitution patterns, and allowing your opponent to dictate your lineup adjustments. Advantage: Pacers.
X-factor: George Hill. Before their recent 5 game skid, the Pacers were on a 16-5 stretch that directly coincided with George Hill getting healthy. He averaged 14 points and 6 assists in February, and is averaging an 18 and 5 in March. Most importantly, Hill and Vogel have been together for a long time. He knows how to manage the game the way the Pacers like it, and knows his personnel. If you find yourself screaming “goddam George Hill!!” there may be trouble.
Fun factor(s): Nene vs. David West! Two veteran tough guy enforcers that will not back down from anyone, facing off in the midst of March, with both teams vying for playoff position.
[NOTE]: Roy Hibbert has been ignored in this preview due to his primary function as a rim protector. The Wizards already hate attacking the rim and love shooting midrange jumpers against everyone, probably even when Luis Scola is playing the five spot.
Prediction: In classic Wizards fashion, the Wizards win in a way that somehow feels like a loss.
Friday, March 27th
HOME vs. the Charlotte Hornets
What to Watch: Here we go again. After losing the first two, the Wizards massacred the Hornets in their previous meeting to the tune of a 26 point victory. The Wiz shot 52%, and held the Hornets to 33% shooting. For once, they got a big lead and actually held it!!
At this point, I don’t have to point out much. These two teams know each other, and we know that they don’t play the prettiest games. Slow tempo. Lots of midrange shots. Lots of frustration. Lots of “I know he made it but that’s really not the kind of shot we want to rely on.” Ugh.
Key matchup: John Wall vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG recently stated that he wants “to be the best defensive player ever.” EVER! A bold proclamation, and an honorable goal. The scary part? Nobody really ruled it out.
And he’s been playing like he means business. The guy has been absolutely relentless on D, night after night, not shying away from guarding anyone. He spent the other night hounding Chris Paul into a 6/16, 8 assist shooting night. As we learned the hard way a few nights ago, that is no easy feat given the gear CP3 has kicked it into of late. He will absolutely take on the challenge of guarding John Wall. If Beal gets going, he’ll switch to Beal. The Truth? He’ll try to handle him too. Sometimes he’ll do it all in one possession. His impact on this game may be hateful, but his effort and tenacity will be hard to hate.
X-factor: Gerald Henderson, as always. In the Hornets two wins, he scored 17 and 27 points. In the loss, he scored four.
Fun factor: Suggestions?
Prediction: Wizards win an ugly (standard) one.
Sunday, March 29th
HOME vs. the Houston Rockets
What to Watch: How to not shoot midrange jumpers. I’m by no means suggesting the Wizards embrace the Rockets style of basketball. But when it comes to shot selection, these two teams are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and the lengths the Rockets go to to NOT shoot midrange jumpers is remarkable. Aside from the occasional Harden step-back two, almost every other Rocket will actively refuse to shoot from midrange. Every open opportunity will turn into a kick to the three point line, to either get a three, or start a new drive to the basket for a lay-up, or another kick out for three. Look at this Rockets team shot chart:
Or this chart reflecting shot frequency:
Compare those to the Wizards corresponding charts:
The Rockets 12% midrange shot frequency is by far the lowest in the NBA. Rockets GM Daryl Morey is all about advanced metrics, and his team operates accordingly. Layups, threes, and free throws. The more the merrier. Not coincidentally, his star player operates accordingly as well.
Key matchup: Wizards D vs. the Beard. The Rockets are all about James Harden. As the Beard goes, so goes the team. And where Harden goes is the charity stripe. Harden has attempted a whopping 150 MORE free throws than second place Russell Westbrook. Harden has MADE 50 more free throws than Westbrook has ATTEMPTED. Harden has a gift; An obnoxious, infuriating, unstoppable gift. The guy gets into the lane, extends his arms abnormally, and throws himself into contact. Get used to it. In his recent 50 point performance, Harden attempted 25 free throws (he made 22).
When he’s not at the free throw line, he’s either at the rim, or behind the three point line. Remember the Rockets shot chart? Well, look at Harden’s personal shot chart:
Hmmmm. Now, you may point out that Harden’s chart is a little thin at the corner three, compared to the Rockets dense population of team corner three point attempts. Your point would be correct. But Harden also assists on a ton of threes, particularly the corner three. Harden is among the league leaders in the NBA in assists for corner three pointers.
Everything the Rockets do, they do via James Harden. You contain Harden, you contain Houston.
X-factor: Turnovers. The Rockets turn the ball over more than almost anyone in the NBA. They are second in the NBA in total turnovers behind the 76ers. They are fourth in the league in turnover percentage. Normally this stat is damning. However, the Rockets are also 5th in the NBA in total forced turnovers, and 4th in the NBA in opponent turnover percentage. They happily turn the game into a sloppy, hectic turnover fest that results in lots of opportunities for transition layups, and transition threes.
The Wizards can definitely win this game. IF they take care of the ball. Let the Rockets turn it over. Don’t get sucked into the turnover game. If the Wizards can minimize mistakes and play turnover free basketball, while the Rockets play Rockets basketball, the Wizards can win. As the Rockets have proven all season, this is easier said than done.
Fun factor: Josh Smith. Nobody takes more shots that he’s not actually good at than Josh Smith. And no one takes more notice of the crowd in regards to these same shots than Josh Smith. Attention Wizards fans in attendance: YOU CAN DIRECTLY EFFECT THIS GAME!! Josh Smith is a career 28% three point shooter, but he is attempting 3.2 threes per game since joining the Rockets. If the crowd encourages him to shoot, he often will. The Detroit crowd, and Atlanta before that, would actively discourage him from shooting, and he would shoot anyway. Very rarely, Josh has a 4/5 night from three, just often enough to keep trying. Hint: Root for him to make his first one. This just gives him additional confidence to launch bricks all night.
Wizards fans courtside beware: The only thing in the NBA more dangerous than a careening Josh Smith bricked three is Alexey Shved.
Prediction: James Harden gives the fans numerous opportunities to cheer for free chicken. But alas, he does not miss both. Rockets win.