There are more signs than ever that the Wizards are starting to get it, starting to trust one another, starting to resemble a team that can play smart defensively and unselfish offensively. But on second-night-of-a-back-to-back legs, in a game against a team with a powerful frontcourt, the recipe of lights-out shooting that conjured up Washington’s most impressive victory of the season wasn’t replicable. In fact, it was a mistake to think that it would’ve been.
Still, what’s to like from the Wizards’ 102-84 loss to the Clippers?
Leave it to ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, who showed he’s got the 101 level down as an outside observer: “3 nice Wiz comments,” Simmons said on Twitter, “I really like Trevor Booker. Javale McGee seems like he gives a crap. Jan Vesely is a specimen in person. There you go.”
That was shortly after McGee’s soaring, spinning, slipping, falling rebound as part of a veritable scrum inside the paint that endured for most of the game. His pursuit and reverse dunk of John Wall’s airballed shot (when he expected to get a foul call on a collision with Blake Griffin’s thigh) was the highlight of the game.
Shortly thereafter, Jordan Crawford raced down the court at top speed on the fast break, but instead of forcing a shot in traffic that almost certainly would’ve been rejected – a play all but guaranteed to happen a few weeks ago – Crawford kept his wits about him and got rid of the ball to a trailing Rashard Lewis.
There’s also the tough defense inside, such as watching Booker and Vesely throw everything but the kitchen sink at Griffin. But it’s tough to give up foul after foul and lack an ability to fight back in the paint at the other end of the floor. The Clippers’ starting frontcourt combined for 29 rebounds; the Wizards had 14. The disparity was the same in starting frontcourt scoring, where L.A. had a 55-27 advantage.
That had as much of an impact as Crawford, Wall and Nick Young all not being able to put up the same kind of numbers as they did the night before against the Blazers. So desperate were they to get their jumpers going, there wasn’t enough attentiveness to prevent the Clippers from knocking down 11 three-pointers themselves, seven combined by former Wizards Caron Butler and Randy Foye.
All that said, the formula is close. The Wizards are 5-8 with Randy Wittman in charge, and in all but four of those losses they’ve been competitive. That itself might seem like it should be embarrassing, but consider that they were 2-15 this season under Flip Saunders and essentially run off the court in shame every other night.
Washington will also soon get back Ronny Turiaf, who will help add toughness and smarts inside. Andray Blatche will return after that, and his contribution remains to be seen. In the short term, both should help relieve some of the scoring pressure on the backcourt and defensive load on Booker and Vesely in the frontcourt.
The result makes the Wizards worth watching and worth rooting for, and that’s a step forward. Suggesting the possibility of anything more at this point, especially with the trade deadline looming for a team that has many steps left in the rebuilding process, is still premature.