The Crystal Ball is a weekly Monday feature forecasting the future for the Wizards week ahead..
This week’s games:
February 2nd, vs. Charlotte Hornets
February 4th, at Atlanta Hawks
February 5th, at Charlotte Hornets
February 7th, vs. Brooklyn Nets
Let’s go Wiz!
Monday, February 2nd
HOME vs. Charlotte Hornets
What to watch: Ugh! This game is not for faint of the heart. If you stay focused on this game in its entirety (and you’re not a player, coach, or media member), give yourself a cookie! YOU are a true Wizards fan. The Hornets, led by Kemba Walker, are not fun to watch. Kemba Walker is out injured. So they are really, really, really not fun to watch. But they are dangerous.
After an abysmal start to the year, Charlotte has played much better of late, and worked their way back into the Eastern Conference Playoff picture. They play a slow-it-way-down style, and play through super skilled big man Al Jefferson. Big Al has some of the best post moves in the game. He can also step out and knock down the mid-range jumper. Unfortunately for the viewing public, most of the rest of the Hornets can’t shoot. As a result, their games tend to turn into low scoring, poorly spaced, unwatchable slugfests that stay close and stressful to the very end.
Key match-up: Your head vs. the wall. This match-up will potentially manifest itself in a number of ways. Watching Charlotte possessions repeatedly end in shot-clock violations will have you wanting to beat your head against the wall. Every time a random low-percentage Charlotte shooter knocks down a contested low-percentage shot, you will want to beat your head against the wall. Worst of all (and hopefully this doesn’t transpire), looking at the 4th quarter scoreboard and realizing the Wizards are trailing 82-73 with 3 minutes to go will definitely have you beating your head against the wall.
X-factor: Lance Stephenson and Gary Neal. Both of these guys can be red-hot, or ice-cold. With Lance, red-hot typically means inexplicable fast-break points, Vine-pleasing assists, and a few low percentage 3s (possibly banked in unintentionally). On the other hand, ice-cold Lance means terrible turnovers, Vine-pleasing pouting, and a few low percentage 3s (possibly clanging off the shot clock).
With Gary Neal, it’s all about buckets. Neal can get hot, and single-handedly shoot the Hornets to a double digit lead. Pull-up 3s, mid-range jumpers, seemingly impossible floaters. When he gets it going, everything starts going in. If he’s off, this will make life much easier for Wizards fans.
Fun factor: Lance Stephenson facial expressions! Lance Stephenson has the greatest variety of “holy crap I just want to punch him in the freakin face” facial expressions of any athlete I have ever seen. If he makes a play, he celebrates, and you want to punch him. If he makes a mistake, he complains, and you want to punch him. If he’s not involved in a play, he pouts, and you want to punch him. If he’s on the bench, he does all of the above, and you want to punch him. If you’re courtside at this game, try to control yourself. On second thought, don’t!
Prediction: Wizards start sluggish, finish strong courtesy of a 3rd quarter run during one of Charlotte’s horrendous scoring droughts.
Wednesday, February 4th
AT Atlanta Hawks
What to Watch: Facts about the Hawks as of the time I’m writing this:
· The Hawks are on a 19 game winning streak.
· Since starting 7-5, the Hawks are 33-3. That’s a win percentage of .918.
· The Hawks have the best record in the NBA.
· The Hawks have the most All-Stars of any team in the NBA.
Remember everything I said about the Hornets? The Hawks are the opposite. Ball movement. Player movement. The extra pass. Unselfish stars. Shooters to space the floor. Everyone doing exactly what they are good at, and nothing they’re not. Beautiful basketball to watch. Basically everything you say about the Spurs. Hence the nickname, “Spurs East.” So yea, the Hawks are REALLY good.
Here’s one more fact. The last time the Wizards played the Hawks (a 31 point loss) the following players scored in double digits:
· Kyle Korver (19)
· DeMarre Carroll (16)
· Al Horford (15)
· Pero Antic (12)
· Jeff Teague (11
· Paul Millsap (11)
· Mike Scott (11)
· Dennis Schroder (10)
That’s EIGHT total. Oh, and Teague added 10 assists.
Simply put, the Wizards have to take SOMETHING away from the Hawks. Defensively, they’ve got to lock-in for 48 minutes, for all 24 seconds of every possession. The Hawks are good enough, and patient enough, to take advantage of any let-down the moment it occurs. Listen: The Hawks are legit. They may still score. But the Wizards have to make it as hard as possible.
Offensively, the Wizards have to take care of the basketball, and make the most of their advantages: Size inside, and John Wall in transition. Turnovers, offensive boards and fast break points will be huge in this game. The Wizards need to win in all these categories to have a chance to beat this Hawks team.
Key matchup: Nene and Marcin Gortat vs. Paul Millsap and Al Horford. I know John Wall and Jeff Teague are going head-to-head, and that’s going to be great. But at the level they are both playing right now, these two will balance each other out.
The factor to swing the game is going to be the guys inside, though not necessarily playing inside. Nene and Gortat have the size advantage, and they must take advantage of their size advantage to get easy baskets, second chance points, and get Millsap and Horford in foul trouble. Defensively, they will have their hands full. Millsap has easy 3-point range. Horford is a deadly shooter out to 20 feet (and he’ll shoot and make the corner 3). Nene and Gortat are going to have to meet the challenge of guarding these guys far from the basket, a place outside of their comfort zone, while still rotating to help inside when needed. It won’t be easy, but it will be critical.
X-factor: Kyle Korver. When the Wizards last faced the Hawks, Korver was 5/7 from 3, and had 19 points. The Wizards’ problem is that that is fairly standard for Korver these days. The man is shooting 53% from 3-point range. More bad news: Korver is shooting 60% on corner 3s. 60 percent!! In other words, you can NOT leave Kyle Korver. Not even a little.
OK, so just don’t leave Kyle Korver. Simple enough. Well, not exactly. The Hawks will repeatedly run sets with Korver in the corner, while Teague runs pick-and-roll at the top of the key with either Horford or Millsap. This puts the Wizards in a precarious position. The bigs will have to try to contain Teague’s penetration, and then recover to either a rolling or popping-out Hawk big. Because of Korver, there will be NO help off of Korver’s man. None. The spacing he creates is unlike almost any other player in the NBA. He’s a serious problem.
A Korver corner 3 to the buoyancy of his benchmates
1. Wall vs. Teague. You should know I couldn’t just ignore this All-Star matchup! These guys are fast, these guys are quick, these guys are unselfish, these guys are good. Watching them going Mano-a-mano all night is going to be fun.
2. Kyle Korver without the ball. If you love the game of basketball, trust me on this: For at least a few Atlanta possessions, watch only Kyle Korver. Watch him stay in constant motion, running off screen after screen. Then, watch how the Hawks use him as a screener. Korver will often sprint towards a potential screener, then suddenly flip the script, and instead, set the screen, catching the defense completely off guard. Additionally, watch his defender. See how close he stays, or how far he drops off of Korver. This defenders position can often determine the course of an entire Hawks possession. And finally (this is the fun part), pretend he’s Bradley Beal.
Prediction: Hawks win. But this time by less than 31.
Thursday, February 5th
AT Charlotte Hornetss
What to Watch: Charlotte again?!? Dammit! Keep your eyes on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in this game. Check this out:
· Games played on Mondays: 6.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 apg.
· Games played on Wednesdays: 10.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.0 apg.
Are those stats completely arbitrary and based on meaningless sample sizes? Absolutely! Did I force the use of those stats just to try to find a reason to make the Hornets more interesting? Of course! Will you have to force yourself to make it through portions of this game, even though you are a die-hard Wizards fan? Yes, yes you will!
Key matchup: Wizards vs. complacency. If the Wizards handle their business like I expect them to, the Wizards will have just beaten this team 4 nights ago (we hope!). They will be on the road in an arena that will not exactly be full of energy and excitement. The Wizards must be careful of coming out flat in this game, or things could get ugly.
X-factor: Fatigue. The Wizards will also be in the second night of a back-to-back. After playing a road game against the Hawks. Competing with (and hopefully beating) the Hawks is going to take a total team, high intensity effort for 48 minutes. The Wizards are going to be tired coming into this game, and they should be. That’s not an acceptable excuse. Let’s hope it doesn’t become one.
Fun factor: The Hornet’s bee-hive pattern court. This is actually pretty cool.
Prediction: An ugly frustrating game by the Wizards, but they manage to pull out a win down the stretch, because John Wall refuses to let them lose.
Saturday, February 7th
HOME vs. Brooklyn Nets
What to Watch: Brook Lopez. The Nets big man is one of the more skilled offensive big guys in the NBA, but the Wizards have the size to match-up. If Nene and Gortat can keep Lopez from getting going, and make him work on the defensive end, the Wizards will have a much easier time winning this game.
Key matchup: John Wall vs. Nets backcourt. It doesn’t matter who’s handling the ball for the Nets, they are going to try to slow this game down. John Wall needs to speed this game up. The Nets don’t have the personnel to run with the Wizards, and Wall will be the fastest player on the court by an even wider margin than usual. If the Wizards turn it in to an up and down game, they will likely turn it into a blowout.
X-factor: “Iso Joe.” Joe Johnson loves the isolation play. He loves it because he’s still one of the best isolation players in the NBA, when he’s in the mood. Unfortunately for the Nets, he’s only in the mood to dominate a handful of games per year. Oh, and clutch moments (Note: regular season only!). He loves dominating clutch moments as well. However, Joe Johnson will need to be in a 48 minute mood to even put the Nets in position to need him in the clutch. If Iso Joe isn’t rolling (along with Lopez), this game shouldn’t be close.
Fun factor: Hating people from Brooklyn! Have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, I never knew you were from Brooklyn!” No, you haven’t. You know why? Because every person from Brooklyn tells you they are from Brooklyn within the first 30 seconds of introducing themselves (even if they’ve lived in DC for 20 years). So at this game, don’t just boo the Brookyn Nets, boo all the Brooklyn fans around you. Boo them passionately. Boo them vehemently. Boo them until they get upset and scream, “don’t F*@& with me bro, I’m from Brooklyn!” And after those 30 seconds or less, boo them some more.
Prediction: John Wall puts up another double-double. Joe Johnson isn’t in the mood. Wizards handle their business.