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The Crystal Ball, Forecasting the Wizards Week Ahead: Fear The Beard; Fear the Brow; Fear Wes Matthews?

The Crystal Ball is a weekly feature forecasting the future for the Wizards week ahead..


This week’s games:

HOME vs. Houston Rockets
AT New Orleans Pelicans
AT Dallas Mavericks

Lets go Wiz!

Wednesday, December 9th

HOME vs. Houston Rockets

What to Watch: There’s a new set of “Twin Towers” in Houston! Dwight Howard and Clint Capela! That tells you about all you need to know about how NBA Basketball has changed in the last 30 years. A term once reserved for Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson can now be applied to Dwight Howard and Clint Capela. But it’s kind of working!

The Rockets are 4-2 since they’ve inserted Capela into the starting lineup next to Dwight, and the duo is killing teams on the glass. They’re grabbing 28.1% of available offensive rebounds, second best in the league over the last 6 games.

Then again, the Rockets just lost to the lowly Brooklyn Nets, by allowing 110 points to a team averaging 96.2. So the jury is still out.

What’s clear is that the Rockets are in the midst of an identity crisis, and they’re grasping for solutions. The duo of Dwight and Capela provides second chances, but it completely neuters the Rockets offensive spacing. Neither player needs to be guarded beyond the restricted area, constricting driving and passing lanes for a team that previously thrived on driving and kicking for 3’s. And those 3’s that Daryl Morey and the Rockets love so much? They’re just not falling. But they’re still flying. Which brings us to…

Key matchup: Wizards vs. opponent 3-point shooting.

Thus far this season, the Wizards defense is getting torched beyond the 3-point arc. I wrote in depth about it here, but the summary is this: They are allowing too many open 3’s, they are allowing them in the wrong areas, and teams are taking full advantage. Teams are shooting 3’s better against the Wizards than they do against anyone else, by a league leading margin.

The Rockets love shooting 3’s. They rank second in the NBA in 3-point attempts at 31.0 per game, but are only hitting them at 33%, good for just 21st in the NBA. But the Wizards have been the antidote for any team poisoned by poor 3-point shooting this season, basically laying a red carpet around the arc. Ask Wes Matthews. Ask CJ Miles. Ask Paul George. If James Harden, Trevor Ariza, and Corey Brewer receive the same type of VIP 3-point shooting treatment, the Wizards will fail to build on a quality win (Monday vs. Miami) once again.

X-factor: James Harden. An MVP caliber player shouldn’t qualify as an “x-factor,” but James Harden fits the bill. His consistent inconsistency has left the Rockets with little to count on, from the one guy they expect to count on on a nightly basis. Hot or cold? Stirring or not stirring the pot? Ragged beard, or trimmed? Nobody knows. Look at these splits between Harden in wins and losses so far this season. The variation is truly staggering.

Wins: 35.5 points, 43% FG, 9.7 3-point attempts, 33% 3FG, 13.9 free throw attempts
Losses: 22.6 points, 35.8% FG, 7.4 3-point attempts, 27% 3FG, 9.3 free throw attempts

That’s a variation of THIRTEEN points per game. When Harden is on, he’s ON. He’s had games this season of 43, 46, 45, 40, and 50. He’s also been held under 20 four times, including last night against Brooklyn, when he scored 10 points and shot 2-for-9. Houston has many problems, but being unable to count on James Harden right now is at the root of all these problems.

Of course, there is one aspect of Harden’s game you can always count on….

Fun factor:

James Harden’s defense! No explanation needed, just this:

And this:

This is fun too:

Prediction: Rockets prepare for launch…3…2…1…🔥

Friday, December 11th

AT New Orleans Pelicans

What to Watch: Disjointed. Basketball. Wins are hard. To get. When your team. Has no. Flow. When you’re not. Sure. What your. Identity. Is. When nothing is. Going. Smoothly.

Writing like that is hard. So is playing basketball. Right now, playing basketball is hard for the Pelicans, and watching them can be even harder. This was supposed to be the “Year of the Brow.” This was the year Anthony Davis was supposed to take the league by storm, win the MVP, and drag a team of misfitting pieces into Western Conference Contention. About that…

Instead, the Pelicans have just looked like a team of misfitting pieces. Injuries have played a role, with the Pelicans best players all missing significant time due to various injuries. Without consistent health, new coach Alvin Gentry has yet to find the right mix of line-ups to balance size, shooting, defense, and tempo. Do we build around Tyreke Evans-Anthony Davis pick and rolls? What about Anthony Davis post-ups? What about Jrue Holiday? Should Omer Asik even play? Should we play more of Davis at the five? Can Davis stay healthy? The season has been full of questions, with very few answers. The result has been an ugly, disjointed season that finds the Pelicans at 5-16, and the season virtually lost already.

See Wizards fans! There’s another team that came into the season with huge expectations, and they’re struggling far worse than we are! Solace at last!

Key matchup: Wizards interior vs. Anthony Davis.

Even a struggling Anthony Davis is a dominant Anthony Davis. He’s scoring 24 points per game, grabbing 11 rebounds, blocking 2.7 shots, and shooting 36% from 3-point range. There’s a reason the Pelicans had great expectations this season, and he is that reason.

And he’s going to give the Wizards bigs fits. He’s long. He’s active. He can put the ball on the floor. He can shoot. The Pelicans only have 5 wins, but Davis is good enough to lead a team to victory on any given night. The Wizards defense needs to keep Davis from putting on a performance that raises eyebrows. Hehehe.

X-factor: Bad defense. What Anthony Davis provides, the team makes up for with bad defense. The Pelicans are the worst rated defensive team in the league, per NBA.com. With size the Asik and Alexis Ajinca, alongside Davis, and noted assistant coach Darren Erman in charge of defense, hypothetically the Pelicans should be a good defensive team. And maybe eventually they will be, but not now. With perimeter plays getting abused and the team ranking 24th in rebound percentage, and players coming in and out of the lineup disrupting chemistry building, the Pelicans simply turn into a sieve on defense on a nightly basis.

Tonight should be no different. Look for Wall and Beal to dominate their individual matchups, and control the tempo.

Fun factor:

The Brow. Regardless of record, the guy is one of the best basketball players in the world. The Wizards only play him twice. Enjoy the moment.

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Prediction: The Pelicans get their wings clipped.

Saturday, December 12th

AT Dallas Mavericks

What to Watch: WES MATTHEWS. For the love of god, someone please keep a watch on Wes MatThews. Last time Wes faced the Wiz, he hit 10 of 17 threes on his way to 36 points. That’s unlikely to happen again, but watching the Wizards approach to this game will be interesting. Will they make clear adjustments to prevent a similar onslaught, or treat last Sunday’s performance as a shooting anomoly?

In either case, expect Dallas to have an answer. Rick Carlisle in one of the best basketball coaches on the planet, and he has the Dallas Mavericks exceeding all preseason expectations. While many had the Mavericks dropping out of the playoffs completely, Dallas remains firmly in the Western Conference top 5. How? Dirk Nowitski. As Dirk has aged, it’s become easy to forget how great he was, and how great he still is. Never forget.

Dirk remains one of the most unique players in the game, and his combination of size, shooting, and post-game still create matchups and looks that defenses have no great answer for. Even no longer at his peak, Dirk is still the center of the Dallas offense, an offense that Carlisle has ranked a very respectable 11th in the NBA. Guarding a 1-4 or 1-5 pick and roll featuring Dirk is still a deathly proposition, and with shooters spacing the floor, it becomes even more deadly. Dirk is no longer Dirk. But he is still great. And so the Mavs are still good.

Key matchup: Bradley Beal vs. Wes Matthews.

We saw how this matchup went the first time. Bradley Beal has too much pride to let it happen again. Look for Beal to play with a special intensity on defense, personally taking on the challenge of keeping Matthews arrows safely in his quiver. However, Matthews is a smart player, playing for a smart coach. Expect Wes to be prepared for individual adjustments from Beal, and team adjustments from the Wizards as a group. Decoy flares? Back-cuts? Secondary actions? Keeping an eye on this game within the game will be fascinating to watch. How the Wizards failed to guard Wes was the difference in this game a week ago. Look for how that game impacts this game to play a big part.

X-factor: Rick Carlisle. This dude is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and has been for a long, long, long, long time. His ability to adapt to changing personnel, and a changing league has been paralleled only by the greats we constantly hear about, like Gregg Popovich, yet the noise around Carlisle tends to be much quieter. Not here. Carlisle’s adjustments in game, game to game, and over a season have helped allow Dallas to stay relevant and in contention, year after year, in a way only the Spurs can relate to. Where the Spurs have maintained Popovich a full core of Duncan, Parker, and Manu, and replenished his talent cabinet with Kawhi and LaMarcus, the Mavs have had only two constants: Dirk, and Rick Carlisle. Dirk receives his due as one of the best to ever fill his position on a basketball court. Don’t forget to do the same for the guy who sits right next to it.

Good luck tonight, Randy.

Fun factor: #CubanFace! Watching Mark Cuban reactions during home games is so great. Let’s hope we get lots of expressions like these!

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Prediction: Mark Cuban finishes what he’s screaming in that last picture. Beal keeps Wes’s quiver full. Wizards get revenge.

we are Hoop District

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