The Washington Wizards didn’t enjoy their most recent encounter with Paul George and the Indiana Pacers, they’ll try to right the ship tonight on the road in Charlotte against the Hornets. George hit seven triples en route to a 40 point night, C.J. Miles chipped in with over 30 points as well. Paul has been on a tear recently and the Miles performance may have been an outlier. Wizards coach Randy Wittman said afterwards that “We have to let this one go, I thought our guys played hard. I don’t have a problem with that. We just ran into a hot team shooting the ball.” That may be easier said than done, but Washington can ill afford a carryover from their loss to Indiana.
The Hornets aren’t the same offensively deprived team they’ve been over the past few seasons. This past offseason they made an effort to re-shape their roster, to one that is capable of putting up points rather easily rather than clawing and fighting for them. A key over the offseason was getting shooters, they went from near the bottom of the league in long ball attempts to the top this season with 26.6 per game. Their defense has suffered a bit, most of which has to do with the absence of one Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The additions of Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin have truly helped this team change into they type of squad that is capable of putting up points in a hurry. In their last game, they trailed the Kings by 21 points midway through the third quarter. They would rally from the 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter, force overtime and win in the extra period. The biggest change for them is their versatility offensively, they are no longer relying solely on Kemba Walker or Al Jefferson. It’s a team effort and Washington will have to be ready to deal with it.
The Wizards have struggled defensively at times this season, they’ve also struggled with moving to a faster pace and wide-open style of play. The biggest reason may be the lack of a true stretch four, it might be best for them to go back to their “big” lineup like last season with Nene and Gortat paired in the front court. Jared Dudley and Nene are the best combination when playing their version of small ball. It’ll be interesting to see how they choose to attack the Hornets, Charlotte has a bevy of options up front which could possibly cause trouble for the Wizards. Especially at that stretch four with Cody Zeller, Spencer Hawes, Marvin Williams, and rookie Frank Kaminsky possessing the ability to step out and hit the three-ball.
The Wall and Walker matchup should be fun, but for the Wizards it’s much deeper than the starting unit. Charlotte’s second unit has been entrusted to finish several games this season, something that Washington’s has not been trusted to do once. Sessions and company must match the output of Charlotte’s bench if they wish to leave with a win. It’s imperative that the second unit battle is won by Washington, the Hornets let their second unit play for long stretches and often sprinkle in a few starters in certain lineups.
Beal and Porter must get it going, force Batum to expend more energy on that end of the floor. He’s taken on a much larger responsibility than the third chair role in Portland. Nic has been far more assertive on the offensive end this season, he’s still making plays for others, but again, he’s just as important to key in on as Walker and Jefferson. It might be safe to say that Batum and Walker are the two keys as Jefferson hasn’t always been on the floor to close out games. He was on the bench during that rally over Sacramento.
Three Keys to a Wizards Victory
Get out to a quick start. The Hornets are very good at home, the truly don’t believe they can be beat in that building. It’s a good crowd and they feed off of them, it’s imperative for Washington to take the crowd out of it early.
Don’t turn it over. The Wizards can’t turn the ball over, this isn’t the old Hornets. Giving them extra possessions can actually hurt this season, they are an offensive team now. All of the Hornets ball handlers are capable of pushing the pace.
Make Batum and Walker facilitators. Washington can’t afford for Nic and Kemba to get going offensively, Charlotte does a great job of sharing the ball, but those are they key guys when buckets are needed. If Al Jefferson goes off, let it happen. Just don’t let Batum and Walker get going to the point that they are hurting you from the outside, especially Walker. He hit four of his six attempts from deep against the Kings.
2nd Unit must produce. Just that simple, Washington’s second unit can’t be a liability tonight. They must win the battle against Lamb, Lin and company. 12-14 points from the bench may not be enough as Lamb is averaging 12.5 points per contest and Lin is at 11.7 per. That’s just two of the members of the second unit, the Wizards could be in for a long night if those two go off.