The Crystal Ball is a weekly feature forecasting the future for the Wizards week ahead..
This week’s games:
AT Cleveland Cavaliers
HOME vs. LA Lakers
HOME vs. Phoenix Suns
HOME vs. Dallas Mavericks
Lets go Wiz!
Tuesday, December 1st
AT the Cleveland Cavs
What to Watch: Your blood pressure. Don’t look now (seriously, you may not want to look), but the Wizards currently sit at 12th in the Eastern Conference.
I told you not to look. But IF you did look, then one thing you DEFINITELY do NOT want to do is look ahead at the upcoming schedule. Here’s their next 11 games.
And that stretch starts with the Cleveland Cavaliers, currently sitting at 13-4 atop the Eastern Conference, 9-0 at home, with LeBron doing his regular season stuff, Kevin Love doing his Minnesota stuff, and everyone else coming along for the ride. They rank 3rd in offensive rating, 5th in Net rating, 3rd in 3 pointers made per game, and 5th in assists per game. They are playing good, solid basketball, which is far more than the Wizards are doing right now.
During this current 4-game slide, the Wizards are shooting 37% as a team, committing 18 turnovers per game, and scoring just 88 points per game. Through 18 games, the WINLESS 76ers are shooting 41%, committing 19 turnovers, and scoring 91 points per game. So not only are the Wizards not playing winning caliber basketball, but they’re actually playing winless caliber basketball. They need to turn it around, NOW.
Key matchup: Jared Dudley and Kris Humphries vs. Kevin Love.
While the Wizards struggle to settle on their stretch 4 starter, the Cavs super stretch 4 is settling in. Kevin Love is averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds, and shooting 41% from three. He’s pulling in 3 offensive rebounds a game, a tremendous figure when you consider that he’s often out on the perimeter spacing the floor during a typical Cavaliers possession. He’s having fun again. Winning is fun. Anyone remember that feeling? No?
X-factor: Mo Williams. Give credit to GM LeBron on this move. Bringing in Mo Williams as a guy who previously made an All-Star team playing with LeBron, and already has some chemistry with him is a good move. But what makes this a GREAT move is Mo’s similarity to Kyrie Irving: A scoring, shoot-first, 3-point shooting, slashing point guard who can get streaky and carry stretches of a game. He’s nowhere near Kyrie’s level, but his style is very similar, which is going to make the Cavs transition when Kyrie arrives a lot easier.
As for now, Williams is playing fantastic. In wins, Mo is averaging 15.3 points, 4.4 assists, shooting 51%, from the field, and 39% from three. In normal circumstances, we wouldn’t worry about Mo Williams. We’d know John Wall was about to strap him up, take it to him on the other end, and make play after play, demoralizing Mo until he wants to take his ball and go home. But these are not normal circumstances. Wall isn’t playing to his own MVP expectations, and has been outplayed recently by point guards we know are sub-Wall. If this point guard matchup goes the Cavs’ way, so will the game.
The mustache? The shorts? The hair? WTF?!
Prediction: The Cavs are 9-0 at home. Make it a perfect 10.
Wednesday, December 2nd
vs. Los Angeles Lakers
What to Watch: KOBE. As a lifelong Kobe hater, these last few seasons have been rough. As Kobe has begun to age, he has handled his fall with grace, humor, and an introspective attitude that has made him, dare I say, likeable.
With Kobe announcing that he will retire after this season, this game becomes a little more than Wizards versus Lakers. Twelve years ago, DC had the opportunity to host the GOAT 41 times. We have no such honor this time, as tonight, DC will host Kobe Bryant for the final time.
Through 20 seasons, Kobe has done his thing against the Wizards. He’s averaged 25.6 points, 5.3 rebounds. He’s averaged 5.8 assists and 40% from 3, both good for his best versus any opponent.
Kobe is unlikely to match any of those numbers tonight, and it doesn’t matter. The Wizards desperately need to win this game, and they better win, but the sad reality is that the stands will be packed tonight with fans who are there to boo, cheer, love, hate, and watch Kobe Bryant. And for once, that’s okay.
Key matchup: The Wizards vs. Pressure
As the losses pile up, and the Eastern Conference looks less and less charitable, the pressure is building on the Wizards to get something positive going ASAP. The Lakers SHOULD be just the remedy they need. The Lakers rank 2nd to last in defensive rating, 3rd to last in offensive rating, and are shooting a league worst 41.1% from the field. They sport a rare combination of raw youth and over-the-top age that has translated to little optimism and even less results.
However, youth has a way of playing loose while pressure has a way of tightening things up. The Wizards are going to know the importance of getting this win, with a number of tough games coming up. If the Wizards let that pressure affect them negatively, things could go sour fast. If they can rise to the occasion, they may be able to get their season back on the right track (Note: You know things are bad when beating a 2-14 team qualifies as “rising to the occasion”).
X-factor: The greatness of Kobe Bryant.
In Michael Jordan’s final seasons with the Wizards, he was clearly not the Bulls Michael Jordan. And yet…
- On November 16th, 2001, he dropped 44 on Utah.
- On December 29th, 2001, he put 51 on the Charlotte Hornets, the last 50 point game of his career. The next game two nights later, he put 45 on the New Jersey Nets.
- On January 24th, 2002, he hung 40 on the Cavs, and 41 on Suns on the 26th.
- On January 24th, 2003, he scored 41 on the Pacers.
- On February 1st, 2003, he scored 45 on the Hornets.
- On February 21st, 2003, at the age of 40, vs. the New Jersey Nets, he scored 43 points against the Nets. It was his last 40 point game.
Kobe Bryant may not be great anymore, but if you think he doesn’t have one or two more special games in him, you don’t know greatness. You don’t know when Kobe will have his last 40 point game, his last 50 point game, his last game winner, his last buzzer beater, or put someone on his last poster. Maybe it’s already happened. Maybe not. But maybe tonight is one of those nights. #Sports
(Arenas fans: Play that video from the beginning)
Prediction: Kobe isn’t Kobe. The crowd cheers him like he still is, and cheers him like he deserves. And cheers a Wizards win.
Friday, December 4th
vs. Phoenix Suns
What to Watch: Tempo. If you thought the Wizards played fast, wait til you get a load of the Suns. The Suns lead the league in pace, and are third in the league in scoring at 106 points per game. They get up and down, and fire up 26 threes a game, making a toasty 39%, good for 3rd best in the league. When the Suns really heat up, they’re tough to beat.
Key matchup: Suns point guards vs. John Wall.
The Suns dual point guard attack of Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe is unique and relentless. They combine to score 44 points per game, dish 12 assists, and grab 8 rebounds. They shoot 11 threes per game, and make them at a 40% clip. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the two point guards in this game playing the best basketball right now both play for the enemy.
By the end of the night, that statement needs to sound crazy. For the Wizards to win, Wall needs hold his own in this 2 on 1 handicap point guard match. Something along the lines of 18 points, 13 assists, and out-assisting the Suns backcourt combo. If Wall can keep Bledsoe and Knight cool, the rest of the Wizards should be able to burn the Suns everywhere else.
X-factor: Consistency. Like the Wizards, the Suns have been up and down this season, and their pace has also led to some sloppy performances. They have shot 43% from three in wins, compared to 36% in losses. Like the Wizards, they are committing 16.6 turnovers per game, tied for fourth worst in the league.
The Wizards show an even more dramatic shift in performance between wins and losses. The Wizards shoot a stellar 41% from three as a team in wins, compare to just 31% in losses. They are committing 19 turnovers per game in losses.
Those stats may seem obvious: Of course, teams play better in games they win than in games they lose. True. But the Wizards variation, similar to years past, is excessive. During an 82 game regular season, you need consistency from your stars, and consistency in your style. When you get dramatic variation night to night, you struggle to find a rhythm and comfort level as a team. Both DC and PHX are learning this the hard way.
Fun factor: The Phoenix Puns! He’s hot right now. He’s on fire. He’s playing like a star. The offense revolves around him. The Suns with a burst. Brandon Night. The Suns are setting. They’re bringing the heat. The Suns get burned.
Prediction: The Suns get burned.