Road-bound Wizards must avoid falling into old habits

Road-bound Wizards must avoid falling into old habits
January 29, 2013, 10:00 am
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The shortest player on the court befuddled Wizard defenders throughout the game, particularly in the fourth quarter. Randy Wittman grew desperate enough trying to contain 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas that he inserted Garrett Temple into the game during the final 30 seconds after sitting the reserve guard every second before.

Let's just say Washington is still searching for a solution. The slithery Thomas scored 22 points, the last two coming on a driving floater with 1.9 seconds left in the Kings 96-94 win.

Perhaps if the Wizards' pass-friendly approach on offense had not disappeared in the second half, there would have been no late game concerns.

Since Sacramento is no longer on their schedule this season, all the Wizards can do is table those Thomas-specific issues until next season. The turnaround for solving their ills on both ends of the court comes much, much sooner with any desired implementation coming on the road.

Washington starts a three-game road swing -- and a devilish portion of the schedule -- Wednesday at Philadelphia. Before reaching the City of Brotherly Love, the Wizards must embrace their own shortcomings, ones that cropped up against the Kings after staying largely dormant during the seven wins in 10 games stretch.

Offensively, it was a tale of two halves: the Wizards shot 56.1 percent from the field and scored 57 points in the first one. After halftime, 38.9 percent shooting and 37 total points. Moving away from the team approach contributed to the production decline, as did 20 turnovers.

“We fell victim to doing too much individually," Wittman said. "Whenever we have more turnovers than assists, that means we’re trying to do too much on an individual basis. I thought we fell victim to that in the second half.”

Martell Webster, who scored 18 points including the tying layup with 7.9 left, acknowledged a level of complacency.

“We just kind of got in a mind state at a certain point of that game where we just kind of felt like, ‘we can outscore these guys,'" Webster said.

Thomas, who scored 10 in the fourth quarter, certainly had that outscoring mentality.

Frustrated with how his primary playing options defended the Kings' point guard, Wittman turned to the 6-foot-6 Temple, who would play a grand total of 13 seconds.

John Wall had 19 points and was on the court for the defensive possession, just not on Thomas as he among those struggling with stopping the diminutive one.

"He’s very quick," Wall said of Thomas. "He made a couple of tough shots, but he just got into the paint and got whatever he wanted.”

Meanwhile Thomas' eyes grew larger when he realized the matchup coming his way after catching the inbounds pass on the right wing.

"I seen a guy that was guarding me that hadn't played the whole game," said Thomas with a slight giggle while reviewing the play.

The southpaw guard headed hard left with his dribble. Washington's top defensive guard, Temple unwisely did not shut off Thomas' desired direction.

"I felt like I had opportunity to take him and he kind of forced me to my strong hand," Thomas continued, which is what he did on the drive. Just inside the free throw line, his lofted attempt found its desired location, the bottom of the net.

“We didn’t have anybody that could guard him," Wittman said. "I couldn’t find anyone that could guard him tonight. That was disappointing, especially as the game went on. He got anywhere he wanted to. Right, left, and the kid made the play at the end.”

Throughout the season, the Wizards defense has been the team's silent strength, ranking ninth in defensive rating. However stopping those lightning quick lead guards has been problematic, including recent pests like Thomas, Denver's Ty Lawson, Atlanta's Jeff Teague and Portland's Damian Lillard and of course, Los Angeles Clippers' star Chris Paul.

Washington next stretch of games includes Philadelphia, Memphis and San Antonio on the road followed by home games against the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn. That means facing All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday (Philadelphia), Tony Parker (San Antonio) and Paul plus Brooklyn's Deron Williams. Memphis' Mike Conley missed Monday's game with a sprained ankle.

If the Wizards want to ensure their recent successful run does not come to an abrupt end, curtailing the various undesirable traits is necessary. Then again, Washington has still won seven of 11 games after starting the season 4-28 so there is certainly no need for panic or drastic changes.

Those searching for an optimistic angle following Monday's loss might come to this conclusion: this defeat felt different that most others because now the Wizards have shown simply staying close is no longer a positive.

“We know we’re in a situation where we can win these games. We have the talent to do it, we just didn’t execute. Had a couple of misdirection's and turnovers down the stretch and just didn’t get the defensive stops that we needed.”