Down 2-0 to the Toronto Raptors, the Washington Wizards face a virtual must win game Friday night when the series shifts to Washington, DC. It’s not just that the Wizards dropped the first two games of the series in Toronto; it’s HOW they lost and how they looked.
The picture of Bradley Beal with his face buried in his towel on the bench in Game 2 perfectly captures the disappointment of the first two games. That’s not to say there weren’t any bright spots– I thought John Wall played well and Mike Scott and Ty Lawson have been fantastic off the bench
Put bluntly, the Wizards need to make some changes…and fast. Here are 5 things they can do to avoid a sweep:
The Wizards’ defense has been absolutely atrocious in the first two games of this series. The Raptors shot 16-30 (53%) from 3 in Game 1 and 13-35 (37%) from 3 in Game 2. Not only is Toronto shooting a lot of 3s, they are making a lot of 3s. During the regular season, the Raptors ranked only 18th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (35.8%) despite ranking 3rd in the NBA in 3-point attempts (2,705). Toronto is not known as a great 3-point shooting team, yet the Wizards have been unable to stop their 3-point barrage. The Wizards’ defense has been a topic of discussion for a couple of seasons now, but they actually played well against the 3 this regular season, ranking 6th in the NBA in opponent 3-point percentage (34.9%). Yet in the first two games of this series, the Raptors have been able to shoot from behind the arc with ease. Defense in the NBA is largely predicated on effort. The Wizards must run the Raptors off the 3-point line, heavily contest shots, and make nothing easy for Toronto. If the Wizards continue to let Toronto shoot this well from 3, go ahead and get out the broomsticks.
Bradley Beal had a hell of a season and was arguably the Wizards’ MVP during the regular season, helping carry the Wizards to the playoffs despite John Wall missing half of the season with injury. That being said, the $127 million dollar max contract man has been invisible so far in this series. The Wizards have no shot at winning any playoff series without both John Wall and Bradley Beal playing well. In Game 1, Beal scored 19 points on 8-17 shooting (2-6 from 3) in 41 minutes with a plus minus of -10. In Game 2, Beal scored just 9 points on 3-11 shooting (1-5 from 3) in 25 minutes, putting up a woeful plus minus of -34. Yeah, you read that right, -34. That is unacceptable from any player let alone a max contract player.”The Raptors are doing a good job being physical with him. He’s missed some open shots… It’s a little bit on him, a little bit on me, a little bit on John [Wall]” head coach Scott Brooks said after the Game 2 loss. “We need him. We are going to have trouble beating this team if he doesn’t play better, and he will” Brooks continued. One of the popular excuses some may succumb to is that Bradley Beal is tired and worn out because he has had to carry the Wizards all season without John Wall. I refuse to buy into that excuse. It’s the playoffs, Beal is a max contract player, and the games are spaced out. Fatigue is not an excuse. “I played 82 games this year, that’s how many you’re supposed to say” Beal added after the Game 2 loss, and he’s completely right. Beal needs to have a huge bounce back Game 3 and return to his All-Star form. The Wizards must get Bradley Beal back on track if they want to have any chance at clawing back into this series
This has been one of the most baffling and agitating aspects of the Wizards this season. The Wizards are a very talented 3 point shooting team, yet they don’t utilize this strength. In the regular season, the Wizards ranked 4th in the NBA in 3 point percentage (37.5%), yet ranked just 23rd in the NBA in 3 point attempts (2,173). The Wizards were the 4th best 3 point shooting team in the entire NBA this season; there is no excuse for shooting so few 3s! This is on Scott Brooks as much as anybody. He is the head coach making $7 million a year. Make some adjustments, draw some things up, find a way to get more 3s. Otto ranked 3rd in the NBA this season in 3 point shooting (he shot 44.1%), yet he only attempted 313 3 pointers in the regular season (an average of only four 3 point attempts a game in the 77 games he played). How are you the third best 3 point shooter in the NBA and yet you only attempt four 3 point shots a game? It makes no sense. Klay Thompson, for comparison’s sake, averaged seven 3 point attempts per game. The Wizards and Otto Porter Jr. must shoot more 3s to win Game 3.
It’s ironic that last season the Wizards’ starting five were considered the strength of the team and the bench was considered the weakness. In the first two games of this series, the situation has reversed. While the Wizards have gotten great contributions off the bench, the starters have left a lot to be desired. We’ve already discussed Bradley Beal, but what about Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat? Let’s start with Markieff Morris. Granted Morris had a good Game 1, he was lethargic in Game 2, scoring just 12 points and grabbing only 4 rebounds. He posted a terrible plus minus of -31 in Game 2. The Wizards need Morris to rebound better and have a more imposing presence in the paint. It’s hard to win games when your starting four grabs only four rebounds. Then there’s Marcin Gortat. Marcin scored twelve points but only notched six rebounds in Game 1 In Game 2 Gortat played just twelve minutes, scoring zero points and grabbing only three rebounds. Rebounding is a basic, fundamental key to basketball. The Wizards have no chance at winning unless Keef and Marcin can rebound the way they are capable of.
The Wizards have gotten off to slow starts in both games in this series, especially in Game 2. In Game 1, the Raptors outscored the Wizards 28-23 in the first quarter. In Game 2, however, the Raptors outscored the Wizards 44-27 in the first quarter and began the game on a 14-4 run. The Wizards dug themselves a hole that was very difficult to climb out of. The Wizards cannot get off to a slow start and put themselves in the position of having to inch back into the game. “I think we are shooting ourselves in the foot coming out to slow starts” chirped Beal after the Game 2 loss. “The 1st quarter the Raptors came out aggressive… other than that, I feel like we would have been in the game.” John Wall echoed the sentiment by saying, “…44-27 in the first quarter is very tough.”. The Wizards must come out of the gates hot in Game 3 and show they are ready to play.