NBA Wizards 

Vine Session: Key Coaching Errors may cost the Wizards the 6th seed in the postseason

The Washington Wizards have fallen to another stalwart defensive team in the Charlotte Bobcats. They were down by 20 at one point, but they never stopped clawing back into the game and eventually took the lead in the fourth quarter at one point. The Bobcats aren’t a team that can score the ball very well, so a comeback was not out of the question for the Wizards. But once they did come back, the goal would shift to putting the Bobcats away.

This was a crucial game–one that could potentially be critical in the race to stay out of 7th place in the Eastern Conference. With such a great amount on the line, you wouldn’t expect a team to come out so flat. So the question is why? Why would the Wizards, with so much at stake, find themselves down 20 to the Charlotte Bobcats? Not to mention that they allowed them to shoot higher than 50% throughout the first quarter.

It was a deplorable effort for the Wizards, but it shouldn’t have taken much to get fired up with all that was at stake. But they didn’t–and the hole that they found themselves in was an enormous one. Although, it wasn’t insurmountable. The Wizards managed to come back after holding the Bobcats to just 42% shooting after three quarters. The defense turned up and the Wizards got the stops that they needed.

But they had to seal the deal and they couldn’t. After being up 83-80 with just about three minutes left in the game, the Wizards found themselves down 85-83 with about 1:40 left in the game. Wall hits two jump shots in a row on two consecutive possessions and put the Wizards up 87-85. And then the Wizards found themselves stumped by one of the simplest offensive plays the game has: a high screen and roll to the basket.

In a situation where you’re coming out of a timeout to protect a two point lead, no basket should go uncontested. Each player should be on the same page in terms of how the defense will be executed depending on what the offense does. There was a clear misunderstanding by the Wizards from a defensive standpoint here. Take a look at the play below.

That’s just something that can’t happen. There were many errors on this play, but we’ll start with this one.

Too much space

There is simply too much space given for a Jefferson roll here. I understand that the idea is to protect against a game winning three–but you also need to prevent the tie as well. As you can see, there is no Wizards player in position to crash down and chuck Jefferson’s path to the rim. If your big is going to play high on the pick and roll, that’s something that needs to follow.

It’s essential to protecting the rim and giving the defense a chance to recover. Plus, the Bobcats don’t have Ray Allen out on the wing. They’ve got decent three point shooters in Neal and McRoberts on the outside. However, they aren’t immune to good close outs and recovery defense. Stunting to the middle instead of giving a full chuck would’ve worked for the Wizards here. Stunting would make Jefferson hesitate on his roll for a split second and that should give Gortat enough time to recover.

The second issue on this play was this–why was Gortat playing so high? In a normal pick and roll situation, Gortat would’ve sagged back on the perimeter player instead of playing up so close. John Wall was caught on Al Jefferson’s screen, so there wasn’t much margin of error for Gortat here. He can’t allow Walker to get by him, but now there’s a clear passing lane to Jefferson because Wall is out of the play.

Once Wall recovers to Walker, Gortat has overplayed to the ball handler’s right hand.

free roll

Any by now, there’s no way that there should be no one protecting the rim. Every player is far from the paint and that gives up the free layup. The Wizards were defending to take away the three ball here and that’s a huge coaching error on Randy Wittman’s part. In this situation, you have to play to the score and the clock more than anything else. This was a call not to lose the game instead of just defending the play and preventing the Bobcats from scoring. The team should be more prepared than this as far as they are into the season.

And, in this situation, the Wizards had a foul to give. Why didn’t they give it? Randy Wittman should’ve had them prepared to give that foul as soon as the situation presented itself. When Gortat went up to play Kemba Walker the foul should’ve been given. At the latest, it should’ve been when Jefferson swooped into the lane. John Wall was in prime position to foul Walker and he just didn’t.

That’s poor situational basketball by a team with too many veteran players. By now, they need to know when to do these things and so should their coach. They went into the overtime period and didn’t use one timeout. They only scored one point in the period and couldn’t buy a bucket. After Walker hits a deep three to put the Bobcats up, Wittman should’ve called a timeout to regroup his team and settle them down. They were forcing shots up left and right and nothing was falling.

During the waning moments of the game after John Wall misses the second of two free throws, the Wizards are down four points. There’s just a bit less than 30 seconds left in the game and it’ll take–at least–two possessions to even the score. There was an eight second differential between the shot clock and the game clock, but the Wizards didn’t foul.

They didn’t give themselves a shot to tie the game and that was an obvious coaching error on Wittman’s part. In late game situations, these key decisions need to be made in order to win. It isn’t a wonder that the Wizards’ overtime record on the season is now 4-8. They don’t execute well in late game situations and that is a reflection on their coach.

This is very disconcerting with the playoffs right around the corner. In the playoffs, the Wizards are going to face a top 10 defense no matter what seed they finish with. Both Indiana and Toronto pack the paint when playing Washington and it exposes their lack of spacing optimization. The Wizards will have a better shot against the Miami Heat, who play aggressive style of defensive ball, but they may make an exception for the Wizards in the first round. If the Wizards aren’t in transition against these teams then they’re not very effective.

Charlotte has done the same thing to them during their last three games against the Wizards and they’ve kept themselves in a position to make games close. In the playoffs, when the game is slower and possessions are more crucial than ever, spacing and coaching are going to be crucial. The team must be organized, Randy Wittman must have specific lineups prepared and they have to be sharp. And, quite frankly, none of that has been there for Washington.

The bottom line is that the Wizards are an average team with an above average payroll. That payroll looks to grow even more as time goes by and I’m sure that ownership will want to maximize that talent.

The Wizards offense is average at best, their defense is close to a top 10 level but it isn’t quite there. They’ve accomplished the playoffs this season and that’s great–but expectations will become even higher. Losses like this one don’t look very good on Randy Wittman’s resume. Once it’s time to evaluate how he performed as a coach this season, these things will come up. I’m not sure if, at this point, he’ll really have any real answers. 

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