For those that read numerous season previews about the John Wall and Nene-less Washington Wizards, what a shame. As it turns, watching the entirety of Tuesday's 94-84 season opening loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers neatly summed up the pros and cons of the current roster.
Even with rookie guard Bradley Beal, the starting lineup lacks consistent scoring and offensive playmakers.
Even without three key players, the Wizards showed a deep reservoir of resolve in a near magical fourth quarter comeback, a carryover from last season's closing six-game winning streak.
Sans Nene and Kevin Seraphin, the primary frontcourt rotation is vertically challenged. Against a relentless Anderson Varejao and the Cavs, that led to a decisive beat down on the boards and never-ending supply of second-chance points for the home team.
The overall depth on the team is evident, especially when the reserves enter. Against Cleveland, quantity could not beat quality, i.e Varejao and Kyrie Irving, though the fourth quarter lineup of Jordan Crawford, Martell Webster, Chris Singleton, Jannero Pargo and Earl Barron (yes, I said Earl Barron) nearly did.
Trailing by as many as 16 points and 74-62 entering the fourth, Washington's bench opened the final 12 minutes with a 14-0 run, highlighted by Barron's interior activity and capped by Pargo's go-ahead 3-pointer. After some counterpunch scoring on both ends, the Cavs closed the game on a 14-4 run, tallying the final eight points including three consecutive dunks by Tristan Thompson.
Player stats: We likely witnessed the lowest individual point total for a Wizards top scorer in any game this season. Crawford paced the locals with 11 points. Emeka Okafor added 10. That's it, that's the list of Washington double-digit scorers. Seven players scored at least seven points including Trevor Ariza and Webster with nine each. Beal scored eight points in his first official NBA action. Playing the entire fourth quarter, Barron led Washington with eight rebounds and the 7-foot journeyman added eight points...With no Wall on the other side, Irving picked his spots in terms of where to shoot from and when to impose his will, leading all scorers with 29 points. However, it was Varejao's career-high night -- 23 rebounds and 9 assists -- that hampered the Wizards throughout. His rebounding total included 12 off the offensive glass and Cleveland finished with a 54-39 overall rebounding advantage.
Key game stat: Both teams finished with 18 offensive rebounds, but the Cavs put their extra opportunities to good use, finishing with a 24-7 second-chance point edge.
Beal vs. Waiters: If you're scoring at home, this one goes to Cleveland's rookie wing guard, who finished with 17 points and three steals. Aggressive on both ends, Waiters found scoring success by running the court and penetrating past the Wizards defense. The noted defender also helped stifle Beal, who did not score from the field after the first quarter and missed his final five shots. Beal flashed his deep range and textbook jumper on two early 3's, but also had his pocket picked by Waiters near half court, leading to an easy two by the former Syracuse sixth-man. Without Wall and Nene, opposing teams are game planning for the Wizards touted rookie. Including the closing stretch of the preseason, the defenses are winning the battle right now against the 19-year-old. The key word there is "now."
Struggling starters: The group of Okafor, Beal, A.J. Price and the two Trevor's, Ariza and Booker finished a combined 13 of 48 (27.1 percent) from the field. That's some serious clanking. Booker appeared lost with the Wizards largely in halfcourt offense mode during the first half while Price missed 11 of 13 shots including seven of nine from beyond the arc. In this lineup, only Beal is a natural scorer, but he's currently best helped when others are creating opportunities and then kicking the ball outside. That's simply not an element this group offers. Should Wittman start tweaking his rotation before Washington's next game, one could imagine him putting another shooter (Webster) or more size (Vesely) on the court from the start.
Next up: The Wizards open a home-and-home set on Saturday with the Celtics, also first night losers. Against defending NBA champion Miami, Boston fell 120-107, meaning Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and company will enter the Verizon Center as unhappy campers. That and superior edge in talent means Washington faces a potential 0-3 start to the new season.