NBA Wizards 

Vine Session: The Washington Wizards fail to defend minus two key defensive players

“They had another bad 3rd quarter.”

That’s the glaring narrative that ¬†you’ll see when you pick up your local newspaper or flip on some sports talk radio when the Washington Wizards are being discussed. And it’s true in some sense–the Wizards had a bad 3rd quarter last night against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Trail Blazers started the quarter off extremely well and finished it in the same way.

After shooting 26% from deep in the first half, the Trail Blazers hit four straight three point attempts to break the game open. That put them on a 12-2 run and the Wizards were never really able to recover. Some will say that this points to the Wizards being lackadasical and not playing with enough energy–but there’s far more to the situation than that.

On a West coast road trip, that some would say will define the Washington Wizards’ season, the Wizards have dropped their first two games. That’s because their defensive play on the roadtrip has been extremely poor–and that was especially the case against Portland.

The Wizards couldn’t contain the Trail Blazers three point barrage because they couldn’t stop penetration to the rim. With Marcin Gortat out after experiencing back issues in warm-ups, the Wizards lost one of their best rim protectors. Another issue is that the Wizards’ defense has fallen overall with Nene out of the lineup. The pressure that he’s able to apply is essential for the Wizards defensive scheme. His ability to slide into passing lanes and force turnovers is key for the balance between rim protection and forcing turnovers.

And their next best rim protector, Kevin Seraphin, was in foul trouble for the entire game. After picking up his fourth foul early in the 3rd quarter, Seraphin didn’t see another minute in last night’s game. He made some key plays early on that allowed the Wizards to build a lead in the first quarter behind John Wall’s 13 point quarter. Seraphin is a solid rim protector with a long wingspan. He’s got good feet defensively, but he tends to get caught out of position often. Opponents are only allowed a 46.6% mark at the rim when Seraphin is in the game.

Plays like these show why:

Unfortunately for Washington, Seraphin couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. And once that happened, there was not a nere ‘nother defensive big man in sight. Drew Gooden has little defensive IQ, Trevor Booker has the same problem. Al Harrington has defensive know-how, but doesn’t have the athleticism to cover the ground that he needs to anymore.

With Seraphin being out for a majority of the game, the Wizards had little hope of containing the Blazers’ guard penetration. They were constantly probing and veering through the lane looking for the open man. The Blazers are an excellent screening team and their offense depends on things like passing, solid screen setting and great handoff execution. They’re constantly running different weave plays and penetrating the lane in an effort to find the open man for three.

The Wizards may not have read the scouting report, because there were multiple occasions where they played underneath screens and let the Blazers tee off from deep. There’s only one way a team can go from shooting 26% on threes to making 40% on by the game’s end. It didn’t matter what Washington did as far as lineups went because they were playing screens the wrong way all night. They made key errors when defending the Blazers shooters.

Defense is a team thing–especially against a team that likes to take shots from deep. You have to be on the same page and play on a string–the Wizards did quite the opposite. On the Batum three above, there were two Wizards players underneath Batum giving him space. You can’t do that. Even though he missed the shot, it’s a good look that the Blazers want.

And on the second three, even though it’s a 30 footer, it’s a good look. Damian Lillard is one of the best three point shooters in the league. He rivals Stephen Curry with his shooting prowess off of the dribble and from extremely deep territory. Wall helping in the lane one pass off of Lillard is not ideal in that spot–even if he’s 30 feet out. The bottom line is that he’ll take that shot and he can make it.

The Wizards were practically giving the Blazers what they wanted from deep. Even without Lamarcus Aldridge they’ll still space you out. The Blazers played small and took the Wizards out of their usual element. Take a look at how Trevor Booker plays this slip screen.

Booker hedges to try to stop Lillard from turning the corner, but Lillard’s goal was never to turn the corner. Hitting Dorell Wright in the corner was always his option in that situation. You have to trust the back end of the play to take care of itself there if you’re Booker. You can’t allow an open corner shot for a shooter of Wright’s stature. Even if he’s just an average shooter from out there, a wide open look can’t be conceded.

Giving up open threes seemed like the theme of the night for the Wizards. They’ve got to pick things up defensively even if they’re without Gortat and Nene for a long period of time. Defense has been their calling card for the last two seasons and they need to stick to it. Otherwise, they could end up seeing the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers in a first round matchup this postseason.

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