WASHINGTON — After dropping their first two games in Los Angeles to the Clippers and then a tough loss in Phoenix, the Wizards came home and got back to .500. But the way that team has shown in its first two games in their opening stretch under former point guard John Wall, they shouldn’t expect to do much more than that.
For now, one game doesn’t mean a lot. But on Wednesday night, the Washington Wizards looked like a team that can win a couple of games like this. Facing reigning world champions Golden State Warriors at home, the Wizards played the reigning world champions so well that this, like all games, seems to have catapulted this team to new heights. They still have a ways to go before they can be considered title contenders, but after their dominating performance, there are certain scenarios where the Wizards could represent the East as far as the playoffs.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Washington was their ability to adjust to the Warriors’ defensive schemes. They were able to play through double teams by the Warriors that trapped each of Wall’s four triple options as soon as a ball was sent across half court. When Golden State’s big men were doubled and pressured, the Wizards could send three, four or even five men to the ball. As soon as a ball got airborne, the Warriors would be forced to let it go. In doing so, they had to adjust to not only defending the drives and shooters but also spacing and personnel moves across the floor.
That changes the entire complexion of their game.
“The bigs were being doubled, they were being pressured by those guys and sometimes they put help out,” Scott Brooks, the Wizards’ coach, said. “We can take advantage of that. Our guys are pretty athletic. That’s what we got to be able to do. We got to attack when they put help out, because we can go in and play that way. When they play help, you want to play through your guys and play through them a little bit, drive, kick and get good looks. I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
When they can do this, they are a deadly offensive team.
The Wizards took advantage of the Warriors’ rotation, which seemed to keep their six point guards on the floor at all times, using 10 different lineups to get 15 different players on the court in the first half. The Warriors stayed conservative and when the Wizards kept the pressure up, they found them open at the three-point line and got a lot of high percentage looks.
Khris Middleton, a defensive stopper for the Wizards early in the game, seems to have gained confidence that he can get off shots inside the paint against the Warriors. When the Wizards made the adjustments, Middleton and Bradley Beal took control. Middleton, who is now taking a backseat to Beal when it comes to offensive scoring, hit an absolute dagger in the fourth quarter to give the Wizards their first lead of the game. This could be a breakout game for him.
“Khris does a great job,” Wall said. “We were guarding him, so he’s putting the ball in the hole when he does. … I’m happy with Khris.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo put up a quiet 19 points for the Wizards, but it was Wall who had a field day with six three-pointers to account for 22 of the Wizards’ 28 total points.
With five or six wins against the likes of the Warriors, Rockets and the Jazz, the Wizards have a chance to win more than half their games on the season. They have the momentum to do this.
How it plays out on the court, however, is what remains to be seen. When they have to play all their top-tier teams on the road, it remains to be seen if they can live up to their high expectations or if their confidence will wane just as quickly as it was born.
“This was a big step for us. It was a playoff game, it was a home game for us,” Wall said. “We feel like we’re a team that’s on the cusp of doing good things and today I think we showed it. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”