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Wizards at Thunder game preview: Litmus test


Washington (2-3) at Oklahoma City (4-1)

November 10, 2013 at 6:00 PM
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
TV: CSN Washington
Radio: 106.7FM The Fan


Projected starting lineups:

Washington Wizards
C- Marcin Gortat, PF- Nene, SF- Trevor Ariza, SG- Bradley Beal, PG- John Wall

Oklahoma City Thunder
C- Kendrick Perkins, PF- Serge Ibaka, SF- Kevin Durant, SG- Thabo Sefolosha, PG- Russell Westbrook

Key matchup:

John Wall vs. Russell Westbrook


Kevin Durant is going to get his. The difference in how close this game will be is the matchup between John Wall and this guy named Russell Westbrook. No pressure there, right? Wall is shooting 29% against the Thunder in their four career matchups, and that is the lowest of his averages against any team in the league. Meanwhile, Westbrook averages 27.3 ppg on a 52.3% clip and 8 apg in his last three home games against the Wizards. Westbrook is a terror on offense, milking every one of his athletic gifts for what they are worth on his way to slashing to the lane and pulling up for his no-hesitation jumpers. Similarly, Wall uses his athleticism, but more so to get out on the fast break before teams can set their defenses. The Wizards rank 2nd in the NBA in fast break points, averaging 20.2 per game. Look for Westbrook to play up tight on wall in order to stop any chance of the break before it happens. Luckily for the Wizards, their fast break has been a joint effort that not only Russell Westbrook can stop. Westbrook has shown flashes of dominance in on ball defense, but has been prone to take part in “ball-watching” while his direct opposition scores easily with off the ball movement and cuts to the basket. Wall needs to pick his spots tonight while trying his best to stay ahead of Russell Westbrook. Easier said than done, but we know he has the ability.


Nene and Gortat. When Nene is healthy, he’s a good fit for this team. When Nene is healthy and playing next to Marcin Gortat, both of their talents are utilized to the fullest extent. Nene had a very impactful game against the Nets, mostly with his hustle to the hoop to create second chance points for the Wizards. One of the turning points in that game against the Nets was his block against Kevin Garnett. As the offense grows more towards being ran through John Wall, Nene can excel in being the guy who cleans up the mess around the basket. With Gortat diving to the lane on pick and rolls, and John Wall driving to the lane while drawing defenders to the basket, Nene will find himself without a body on him. He took advantage of it against the Nets, let’s see how he does against the Thunder. Tonight, Nene needs to run, run, and run some more. Kendrick Perkins has his days, but he has historically struggled against teams that like to push the pace. The Miami Heat made him a complete non-factor, if not liability in the NBA Finals. Since then, teams have made sure to push the pace to benefit from the possible 5 on 4’s they could get, somewhat diminishing his value as a player. Perkins is an elite post defender, so Nene might have trouble getting his in isolation. Gortat will also need to continually run the floor to take advantage of any cross-matches the Thunder try to use with Ibaka and Perkins while trying to set their defense. Gortat will also need to take advantage of every pick and roll play he gets. The Thunder go through great spurts defensively, but they are prone to missing rotations on defense.

The X-factor:

3-point shooting. The Wizards get approximately 1/3 of their team points from behind the line. That ranks 1st in the NBA. The Thunder will try their best to force long 2’s or even mid-range jumpers to avoid giving the Wizards a piece of their apparent bread-and-butter. Last game, the Wizards shot 41% from downtown to edge the Brooklyn Nets in overtime. Tonight, they will need something similar on offense, and a lot more effort on defense. This Thunder team needs a strong 5 minute offensive run to put this game out of reach at any moment. The Wizards want to hit most of their triples in the flow of the game, not while trying to play catch-up.

What happened last time they played?

The Wizards got beat down at the Chesapeake Arena by a balanced Thunder attack. With the win, the Thunder had snapped a two-game losing streak against the Wizards. John Wall was the high-point man for the Wizards with 18 points. For good reference, the Wizards trotted out Wall, Temple, Singleton, Booker, and Okafor in the starting lineup. Nene, Beal, Webster, and Ariza were all inactive. I repeat, Chris Singleton started. Chris Singleton played 41 minutes.

Who’s hurt?

Nene accidentally stubbed his toe against his nightstand and will be out 4 to 6 years. Just kidding. There are no notable injuries to…note.


This is flat out a bad matchup for the Wizards, to be quite frank. Wall will not be able to overpower Russell Westbrook with his athleticism, well, because Westbrook is every bit the athlete that Wall is, probably even better.

Ariza is a lengthy defender who can hit the 3. Well, the guy he will be guarding is a much better 3-point shooter than he is, and even “lengthier.” Kevin Durant is as slender as Ariza but 3-4 inches taller. Gortat is an athletic PF who plays with tenacity. Serge Ibaka is all of that, with an elite ability to contend shots, and an improving ability on offense.

That leaves Bradley Beal and Nene. Beal had a 29-point game against the Nets but he will be going up against a decent defender tonight in Sefolosha. Beal did a great job of not hesitating when coming off screens to take the shots he wanted against Brooklyn. Gortat and Nene have done a great job of setting screens, and will most likely try to drag Perkins or Ibaka outside of the paint.

Beal should get a lot of open looks and he needs to take and hit as many of them as he can. If the Wizards expect to walk out of the Chesapeake Arena with a W, they need Bradley Beal to have an extremely efficient game on the offensive end, and they can’t afford for Sefolosha to really score anything. Durant and Westbrook will get their scoring in.

However, the Wizards have to make sure guys like Sefolosha and Perkins who really can’t create their own shots, don’t get going offensively in any way. I see the Thunder winning this one by a dozen. However, I will pay closer attention to how the Wizards handle the Thunder attack.

Will they find a way to keep it close for a majority of the game? Will they fall behind early? Will they get frustrated if the Thunder go on a 10-0 run, or will they stick to the game-plan? If it’s Wittman’s game plan, should they even follow it in the first place? All jokes aside, this is a huge litmus test for the Wizards.

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