Minnesota (5-18) at Washington (17-6)
December 16, 2014 at 7:00PM
Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Verizon Center, Washington, DC
The Wizards wrap up a 3-game home stand against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight before getting a two-night break preceding the Heat in Miami and believe me, they’ve earned it. Winners of four straight, the Wizards have accumulated recent victories in several fashions. A resilient late game performance to close out Boston in double-overtime, a buzzer beater in Orlando, a wire-to-wire win against the mighty Clippers, and finally, refusing to dumb down to the lowly Utah Jazz.
The factors that have led to success for the Wizards are aplenty but it really starts with defense, where they rank in the league’s top 10 in every major statistical category. Have a glance:
Def. efficiency – 98.8 (4th)
Opp. eFG % – .473 (6th)
Steals per game – 8.1 (5th)
Forced turnovers per game – 15.1(7th)
Blocks per game – 5.2 (7th)
These numbers come off a bit of surprising to some of us considering how much we feared a defensive drop off after Trevor Ariza’s departure. But the Wizards haven’t lost a step, even despite Nene and his recurring injuries. To a certain degree, Paul Pierce has picked up the pieces Ariza left, Marcin Gortat has been a linchpin down low, and then there’s John Wall. Mothaf*ckin John Wall, man. His growth as an offensive mastermind has been most glaring this season, but his defense has been equally paramount and arguably the best at his position.
Enter the Minnesota Timberwolves, a franchise which seemingly left eternally hopeless having suffered the tumult of 25 win averages over the past seven seasons, trading away a disgruntled superstar which has now led them to a roster comprised of a cluster of adolescence. Of their 15 players, 11 of them have less than half a decade’s worth of experience and the growing pains, well, they’re pretty evident by simply looking at the win column. They’ve lost 13 of 23 games this season, leaving them buried at the bottom of the barrel in the Western Conference.
While their fountain of youth seems to be gushing with promise and the hope for a brighter future, the Wolves have been hampered this season with injuries, particularly to Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio. Martin, who had been averaging just over 20 points a game with a PER of 21.4 is out indefinitely with a broken wrist. Meanwhile, Rubio, the team’s ever-so-long hype at point guard, suffered a severe ankle sprain a few weeks ago and, according to Minneapolis’ local paper Rubio “has taken the next step in his rehab by getting on an anti-gravity treadmill that allows him to exercise without putting weight on his legs.” So there’s that.
Like the Jazz game, tonight’s match serves as another tester of making sure the Wizards don’t dumb down to inferior opponents. This was a grave issue in seasons past and while the schedule thus far has been mostly comprised of teams with losing records, the Wizards have put their past shortcomings in contrast by handling those teams. A win tonight will improve the Wizards to 18-6 as they continue to breathe down the Raptors’ necks for the number one spot in the East.
Last time they met was..
December 27, 2013 @ Target Center, Minneapolis. The Wolves won 120-98.
This was about as #SoWizards of an outing as you could imagine. The Wizards opened up the game on a 9-0 run but led by only one at the end of the 1st quarter only to get outscored by the Wolves 39-24 in the 2nd to trail by 14 at the half. Later, while the Wizards were down by 21 with under five minutes left in the 4th quarter, Bradley Beal would get tangled up for a loose ball and injure his left leg, having to be carried back into the locker room. Luckily it wasn’t serious and Beal would not miss any games, but still so, SO Wizards. Kevin Love scored 25 points in the game while JJ Baraea torched the Wizards off the bench with 17 points on 8-10 shooting. Neither play for the Wolves anymore so that’s irrelevant history. John Wall finished with a game high 26 points so that was cool, I guess.
Welcome home, Flip! Not really, though..
[GIF cred: TruthAboutIt.net]
Flip Saunders spent two and just a little over a quarter seasons in Washington before he was canned for his long-time assistant, Randy Wittman. Was it a fair dismissal? Not so much. We all knew Flip didn’t sign up to partake in a franchise overhaul and so when the Wizards did eventually go that route, Flip – as with any head coach in his position – inevitably landed at the center of the fire with only a water gun to fight his way out of it.
Speaking of fires, not even three full months into the gig, Flip was daunted with the task of regrouping his locker room after #GunGate. On top of that, he was playing an endless game of musical chairs with an excruciatingly talentless roster (17 different players started for the Wizards in his first season). Flip went on to win just 26 games in his first season, 23 in John Wall’s rookie season, and only two of his first 17 before getting dismissed.
While the most of the Wizards’ consistent woes were circumstantial and not totally Flip’s fault, the bulls eye inevitably gets marked on the head man in charge of on-court basketball operations, and the front office was left no choice but go a different route.
Tonight marks the first time Flip will return to DC as a head coach, facing his successor and long-time former assistant, Randy Wittman. And in case you’re predicting number of hugs tonight, of the players Flip left in 2012, only John Wall and Kevin Seraphin remain on the Wizards’ current roster.