Posts Tagged ‘Nene’

Film Study: Blazers’ shooters burn Wizards from 3-point range


VIDEO: The Blazers hit the Wizards with a barrage of 3s in the third quarter

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Thursday night in Portland, the Washington Wizards shot 12-for-27 (44 percent) from 3-point range.

Those are good numbers. Prior to Thursday, teams were 353-180 (.662) when they hit 10 or more threes in a game. The Wizards themselves were 28-10 when shooting better than 36 percent from beyond the arc.

It’s also impressive that the Wiz were able to generate so much perimeter offense without Marcin Gortat (who hurt his back warming up), one of the most prolific pick-and-roll bigs in the league. They’ve been much more efficient offensively with Gortat on the floor this season, but they scored 103 points on just 91 possessions (113 per 100) on Thursday.

The problem was that the Blazers shot 14-for-35 from 3-point range and scored 116 points on 91 possessions (127 per 100). The Wizards ranked ninth defensively when Nene went down with a left knee injury on Feb. 23, but rank 21st since then, having allowed 108.0 points per 100 possessions over the last 12 games.

Nene might not have been the difference maker on Thursday, because even with the players the Wizards had, some of Portland’s threes were avoidable.

Second chances, then 3 points

The Blazers rank second in offensive rebounding percentage and lead the league with 88 second-chance 3-pointers.

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Three of those 88 came Thursday …


VIDEO: The Blazers hit three of their league-leading 88 second-chance 3-pointers

Foes pay for doubling the post

Those first two second-chance 3-pointers came directly off the offensive rebound. But on the third one, Nicolas Batum found himself wide open when John Wall double-teamed Wesley Matthews in the low post.

That was also the third three that the Blazers got directly off a Matthews post-up. On the first two, either Wall or Bradley Beal initially fronted Matthews in the post, and when the Blazers were still able to get Matthews the ball, Trevor Booker came to help from the baseline.

From there, the Wizards’ defense was scrambling and there was an open three one or two passes away …


VIDEO: The Blazers get open threes out of double-teams in the post

Matthews is a pretty good post-up guard, but there shouldn’t be a need to send a double-team when he’s being defended by the 6-foot-4 Beal or 6-foot-4 Wall. That idea is especially true when the Blazers have an extra shooter on the floor.

Wright kind of mismatch

The Blazers are now 7-2 without LaMarcus Aldridge, having scored an efficient 112.0 points per 100 possessions in the nine games. Aldridge is thought of as Portland’s best player, but of their five starters, he has, by far, the lowest true shooting percentage. His abundance of mid-range shots (he still leads the league by 139 attempts) makes him a relatively inefficient scorer.

And while the Wizards will still start two bigs when Nene and/or Gortat are injured, the Blazers have gone small without Aldridge, starting Dorell Wright at the four.

On Thursday, Wright was matched up with Booker, who got one bucket on a tip-in and another on a post-up, but who wasn’t able to consistently take advantage of the size discrepancy.

Wright didn’t burn Booker all night from the perimeter, and the Wizards were a plus-2 in 16 minutes with Booker and Kevin Seraphin on the floor together, but there were a couple of times when Booker couldn’t keep up with the shooter …


VIDEO: The Blazers take advantage of Trevor Booker on the perimeter

The Wizards’ schedule gets a lot easier from here on out. Thursday was their last road game against a team with a winning record. But their 3-point defense needs to be better, because three of their next five games are against the three teams — the Lakers (32), Suns (36) and Hawks (32) — who have the most games with 10 or more threes.

Pick-and-roll Data Likes The Suns

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On the Washington Wizards’ first possession of their big, triple-overtime win in Toronto on Thursday, John Wall and Marcin Gortat ran a side pick-and-roll. The same primary action produced two big free throws in the final minute of the second overtime and a huge three-point play in the third OT.

SportVU cameras captured every pick-and-roll run in the 63 minutes of basketball at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday. The folks at STATS LLC have been tracking pick-and-rolls via SportVU this season, opening a new door as we look to learn more about the game, and have provided some of the data to NBA.com.

Note: All pick-and-roll stats included are through Wednesday’s games.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Wall and Gortat had run almost 200 more pick-and-rolls than any other combination in the league. They’ve been a pretty solid combination, with the Wizards scoring 1.06 points per possession when the pair ran a pick-and-roll. That mark is a notch better than the league average of 1.03 (on pick-and-roll possessions) and ranks 87th among 209 pairs of teammates who have run pick-and-rolls on at least 100 possessions.

But there’s a big difference between a Wall-Gortat pick-and-roll and a Wall-Nene pick-and-roll, which has produced just 0.85 points per 100 possessions. That’s one reason why Washington ranks 29th in pick-and-roll efficiency (better than only the Milwaukee Bucks).

Wizards’ most-used pick-and-roll combinations

Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Wall Gortat 784 731 772 1.06
Wall Nene 349 324 275 0.85
Beal Gortat 240 226 224 0.99
Wall Booker 147 139 128 0.92
Beal Nene 121 116 110 0.95
Wall Ariza 111 111 119 1.07
Ariza Gortat 113 108 105 0.97
All other combinations 1,295 1,249 1,077 0.86
TOTAL 3,160 3,004 2,810 0.94

Wall has been more likely to pass to Nene than Gortat, but that hasn’t been a good idea, as Nene has shot just 16-for-48 (33 percent) on those plays.

John Wall pick-and-roll partners

Screener Scr. P&R Poss. JW FGM JW FGA JW FG% JW PTS Pass to S S FGM S FGA S FG%
Gortat 784 731 74 183 40.4% 171 188 42 85 49.4%
Nene 349 324 24 71 33.8% 56 129 16 48 33.3%
Booker 147 139 15 49 30.6% 33 34 6 13 46.2%
Ariza 111 111 14 23 60.9% 41 29 5 9 55.6%
Seraphin 85 81 4 11 36.4% 10 27 3 15 20.0%
Others 149 143 6 22 27.3% 17 25 2 10 20.0%
TOTAL 1,476 1,386 131 337 38.9% 311 407 72 170 42.4%

You see that Wall has shot worse when he’s come off a Nene screen, perhaps because Gortat sets a better pick and/or because Nene’s defenders are more mobile and able to defend Wall on a hedge or switch.

The Wizards will miss Nene, who’s out six weeks with an MCL sprain, but mostly on defense. The Wizards have allowed slightly less than a point per possession when he’s been the big defending a pick-and-roll. They’ve been almost seven points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.

Offensively, they’ve been a point per 100 possessions better with him on the bench. And their pick-and-roll game might actually get better in these six weeks without him.

Top of the list

The Dallas Mavericks have been the most prolific pick-and-roll team in the league, but the Phoenix Suns have been the best, scoring 1.09 points per pick-and-roll possession, just a hair better than the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, team

Team Screens Scr/100 Rank P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Phoenix 2,640 47.8 24 2,162 2,362 1.093
Houston 2,480 44.2 27 2,091 2,282 1.091
Portland 2,805 49.7 23 2,295 2,499 1.089
Oklahoma City 2,834 50.0 22 2,354 2,554 1.08
New York 2,782 51.9 16 2,292 2,452 1.07
Miami 2,768 54.0 12 2,145 2,294 1.07
Dallas 3,955 69.6 1 3,031 3,226 1.06
San Antonio 2,752 50.7 20 2,224 2,361 1.06
Indiana 2,420 44.6 26 2,015 2,139 1.06
Toronto 3,529 66.2 2 2,696 2,848 1.06

Scr/100 = Screens per 100 possessions

The Suns’ success starts with Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, the aggressive ball-handler and the 6-foot-11 floor spacer. They’ve been the league’s top pick-and-roll combination among those with at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, tandem

Team Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
PHX Dragic Frye 425 392 510 1.30
MIA Wade Andersen 131 124 160 1.29
OKC Durant Collison 119 114 143 1.25
OKC Westbrook Durant 156 148 185 1.25
NOP Holiday Anderson 130 125 156 1.25
SAC Thomas Gay 168 165 202 1.22
POR Batum Lopez 183 180 220 1.22
POR Williams Lopez 121 111 135 1.22
IND Stephenson Hibbert 147 144 175 1.22
OKC Durant Perkins 209 196 238 1.21

Minimum 100 pick-and-roll possessions

Dragic has run almost the same amount of pick-and-rolls with Miles Plumlee (407 screens on 390 possessions) as he has with Frye (425, 392). But the Suns have  scored only 1.03 points per possession on the Dragic-Plumlee pick-and-rolls. Clearly, Dragic prefers to have a screener who pops out for a jumper, rather than one who rolls to the rim.

On those 390 Dragic-Plumlee possessions, Dragic has passed the ball 232 times, but only 59 times (25 percent) to Plumlee. On the 392 Dragic-Frye possessions, he’s passed the ball 234 times, and 113 of those passes (48 percent) have gone to Frye.

Overall, the Suns have been efficient when Dragic has the ball, scoring 1.16 points per possession from his 1,238 pick-and-rolls. That’s the best mark among 46 starting point guards and other high-usage perimeter players who have been the pick-and-roll ball-handler for at least 300 possessions. And who’s next on the list might surprise you.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, ball-handler

Ball-handler Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss. Top Partner Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss.
Goran Dragic 1,172 1,361 1.16 Channing Frye 392 510 1.30
DeMar DeRozan 690 793 1.15 Amir Johnson 261 303 1.16
Kevin Durant 732 813 1.11 Serge Ibaka 284 286 1.01
Jeremy Lin 528 586 1.11 Dwight Howard 166 181 1.09
LeBron James 659 729 1.11 Chris Bosh 188 225 1.20
Damian Lillard 1,121 1,238 1.10 LaMarcus Aldridge 441 526 1.19
Dwyane Wade 469 516 1.10 Chris Bosh 155 144 0.93
Jrue Holiday 783 859 1.10 Anthony Davis 245 256 1.04
Monta Ellis 1,451 1,583 1.09 Dirk Nowitzki 500 554 1.11
George Hill 619 672 1.09 David West 258 279 1.08

Among 46 starting point guards and other perimeter players in the top 25 in usage rate.
Top partner = Player with whom he’s run the most pick-and-rolls.

DeRozan’s numbers seem a little fluky. He’s shot just 41 percent out of pick-and-rolls, has recorded an assist on just 5.8 percent those 690 possessions (the fourth lowest rate of the group), and averages less than one secondary assist (where his pass directly leads to somebody else’s assist) per game. But he has drawn fouls on 9.4 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions, a rate on par with that of LeBron James.

Some more notes from this list…

  • It’s interesting that James has had good success with Chris Bosh, but Dwyane Wade hasn’t. Wade has actually shot better (18-for-32) than James has (14-for-31) coming off Bosh screens, but Bosh has shot better when receiving a pick-and-roll pass from James (15-for-22) than he has when getting one from Wade (9-for-25). The shooting numbers, of course, are some small sample sizes.
  • Of the 46 pick-and-roll ball-handlers I looked at, the most likely to shoot is Tony Wroten, who has taken a shot on 31.0 percent of the screens he’s come off of. Next on the list are Nick Young (30.7 percent), Reggie Jackson (30.0 percent), Jamal Crawford (29.6 percent) and Rudy Gay (29.6) percent.
  • The players least likely to shoot are Kendall Marshall (12.4 percent), Patrick Beverley (12.9 percent), Mario Chalmers (14.5 percent), George Hill (15.9 percent) and Ty Lawson (16.3 percent).
  • James (20.1 percent) is less likely to shoot than Chris Paul (21.3 percent), Dragic (21.7 percent) or Wall (22.1 percent).
  • The guy most likely to pass to the screener is Stephen Curry. Of Curry’s 830 passes out of pick-and-rolls, 56.3 percent have gone to the screener. Next on the list are Russell Westbrook (55.3 percent), Michael Carter-Williams (52.1 percent), Deron Williams (50.7 percent) and Kyrie Irving (48.7 percent).
  • The guy least likely to pass to the screener is James Harden (27.2 percent). So when they come off pick-and-rolls, Curry is twice as likely to pass to the screener than Harden is. After Harden comes Carmelo Anthony (27.4 percent), James (28.0 percent), Jrue Holiday (29.0 percent) and Tyreke Evans (30.3 percent).
  • Six of the 46 have shot better than 50 percent when coming off a pick-and-roll: Chalmers (54.8 percent), Dragic (53.2 percent), James (52.5 percent), Wade (51.3 percent), Kevin Durant (50.2 percent) and Tony Parker (50.2 percent).
  • Get this: Durant has recorded an assist on a higher percentage of his pick-and-roll possessions (13.0 percent) than James (10.3 percent) and more than twice as often as Paul George (6.0 percent).

Location is key

SportVU keeps track of where every pick-and-roll takes place. As you might expect, the closer to the basket the screen is set, the more likely the offense is to score. The most efficient pick-and-roll spot on the floor is at the high post (around the foul line, inside the 3-point arc), which produces 1.05 points per possession.

But high post pick-and-rolls account for only 4 percent of all pick-and-rolls. The most common location is the top of the key, which sees 41 percent of pick-and-roll action. Next is the wing (foul-line extended), which sees 28 percent and the “sideline point” area (out by the coach’s box line) at 25 percent.

Pick-and-rolls by location

Location Most PCT PPP Best PCT PPP Worst PCT PPP Lg. avg. PPP
Center Point NOP 53% 1.05 POR 42% 1.12 MIL 41% 0.90 41% 1.02
Wing CHI 39% 1.05 GSW 16% 1.11 ORL 19% 0.93 28% 1.02
Sideline Point DAL 32% 1.10 OKC 31% 1.17 WAS 25% 0.92 25% 1.03
High Post PHI 7% 1.03 HOU 3% 1.31 GSW 3% 0.80 4% 1.05
Corner MIA 7% 0.97 MIN 2% 1.28 BOS 3% 0.76 3% 0.99

PCT = Percentage of total pick-and-rolls run from that location.
PPP = Points per possession on pick-and-rolls run from that location.

We’re just scratching the surface here. And that’s the issue with SportVU. There’s so much data to digest, it has to be compartmentalized and put into the proper context. But we’re really starting to see how much it has to offer.

Next week, I’ll take a look at pick-and-roll defense. (Hint: Indiana good, Portland bad.)

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe on Collins and courage “domino” effect | Oden’s makes waves, first start for Heat | Clippers finally get what they need … win over the Thunder | Wizards turn to veterns for help down the stretch | A “shoe war” over Lillard?

No. 1: Kobe insists Collins courage will have domnio effect – Making history surely wasn’t on the mind of Jason Collins Sunday night, as he became the first openly gay athlete to suit up and play in one of the four major American sports. All Collins, of the Brooklyn Nets, was trying to do was earn his 10-day contract keep and help his team win. Whether he likes it or now, though, Collins is taking groundbreaking steps that will generate what Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant called a courage domino effect across the landscape. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports explains:

“His impact [Sunday night] is greater than what people think,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports before the game. “You look at it from the context of having the first openly gay player. But they missed the domino effect that it has way beyond sports.”

Collins, now in his 13th season, was a free agent at the time of his announcement and the Nets were the first team to sign him. Bryant said his initial reaction to Collins signing with Brooklyn was, “It’s great. Let’s hoop.”

Along with having an impact on the gay and sports communities, Bryant says the news teaches the youth “it’s OK to be yourself” and will motivate people from all walks of life.

“It’s fantastic. It sets an incredible precedent,” said Bryant, who is currently out of the Lakers’ lineup indefinitely with a knee injury. “I think the most important part about it, what I’ve learned on the issue is that one person coming out is showing this type of courage that gives others that same type of courage.

“It’s dealing with a lot of issues for kids who are afraid to be themselves. Afraid to be themselves because of the peer pressure that comes with it. A lot of these kids have depression issues or they’re being teased from other kids for being different. You wind up seeing a lot of suicides, kids injuring themselves and getting hooked on things that they should not be hooked on.”

On the impact of Collins’ first game, Bryant said: “There is a kid out there who … is going to say, ‘Jason gave me strength in dark moments to be brave. He gave me courage to step up and accept myself for who I am despite what others might be saying or the public pressures. He gave me strength and bravery to be myself.’”

Collins, who was scoreless in 10-plus minutes of action, said in response to Bryant’s praise, “That’s along the same lines of what I would say to every other professional athlete. … Realize that there is support there waiting for you. That’s the only thing I can say about encouraging people to be their true self.”


VIDEO: Jason Collins waxes on his season debut with the Brooklyn Nets

***

No. 2: Greg Oden’s first start for Heat (sans LeBron) ends with a win – Greg Oden made some news of his own Sunday, earning his first start for the Miami Heat in their win over the Chicago Bulls. The former No. 1 overall pick reached yet another milestone in his long journey back from what once appeared to be career-ending knee injuries. His start came without LeBron James in uniform, the Heat superstar sat out with that broken nose suffered against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week. But this day was about Oden and his milestone, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Oden’s big-picture perspective is unwavering.

He’s just happy to be here.

“For me, each game getting better and walking off healthy — they’re all milestones to me,” said Oden, who is attempting to revive his career after a series of knee injuries. “It has been a long road, so every one is a good one for me.”

Sunday might have been the best of all. He started his first game since December 2009 and played nearly 13 minutes in Miami’s victory. During his brief time in the game, Oden matched up against Bulls center Joakim Noah and had five points and five rebounds.

“He’s an active player for someone that big,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He makes multiple efforts, he gives you extra possessions and he’s very intelligent, so he has a pretty good grasp of what we want and how we want to play already.”

With LeBron James out with a broken nose, Spoelstra went to Oden for his size inside against the Bulls and also to keep the Heat’s second unit somewhat intact. Chicago is one of the league’s most aggressive rebounding teams and it showed early. The Bulls held a 32-19 rebounding advantage after the first half.

“We knew the minutes would be short for Greg still — 10 to 12 minutes — so we figure that [it would] be best to get him in that starting lineup,” Spoelstra said. “We get to keep our rotations somewhat similar.”

Oden said he could have played more than 13 minutes, which is a positive sign for the Heat. He is expected to be an important piece in the playoffs, especially against teams such as the Bulls and Indiana Pacers, which feature big frontcourts.

On a contending team for the first time in his career, Oden is following the lead of his more experienced teammates and Oden’s health is returning just in time for the Heat’s playoff push.

“They’ve all been through this before,” Oden said. “This is one of my first times going through this. This is that push you’ve got to get for first place. That’s what we are aiming for right now the next push is going to be when the playoffs come.”

***

No. 3: Clippers finally get that much-needed win over The Thunder – The Los Angeles Clippers fancy themselves a championship team, as do the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers, though, needed a win over the Thunder, on the road, to legitimize their claim. And they finally got that Sunday, solving their Thunder issue on the big stage and sending a message that they are indeed going to be a part of the power mix in the Western Conference playoff chase. As Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reports, it was long overdue:

The Clippers needed this.

A 125-117 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday carried restorative powers for a Clippers team had been unsuccessful against the NBA’s elite on the road.

The Thunder owned the league’s best record — until the Clippers’ victory took their opponent down a peg to 43-14, percentage points behind Indiana (42-13).

The Clippers won with all five starters scoring in double figures. Jamal Crawford led the way with 36 points, but Matt Barnes (24 points, seven rebounds), Blake Griffin (20 points, seven rebounds, six assists), DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (18 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds) all played significant roles.

“It’s definitely a good win for us,” said Paul, who played despite a sprained right thumb. “We were on the plane [Saturday] flying here and we were just talking about how we hadn’t beat any good teams on the road, and this would be the perfect time to start.”

The Clippers lost here earlier this season. They also have lost at San Antonio, Miami, Indiana and Portland, teams that rank among the best in the league.

The Clippers have won at Houston, but that was only one win against five road losses against the top teams.

Now the Clippers have a victory against a Thunder team that has lost only five games at home all season. They also have their first win since the All-Star game, after stumbling out of the break with losses to San Antonio and at Memphis.

“It was a very important win, especially having dropped our last two,” Griffin said. “This win was big for us. We haven’t really made a statement on the road. We’ve won some games, but we haven’t won big games. So it was terrific for us.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about the Clippers’ big win in OKC

***

No. 4: Wizards turns to veterans for help down the stretch – Trades and injuries have a way of opening doors for NBA veterans this time of year and the Washington Wizards are not different. After their work on deadline day, the Wizards had a new point guard in Andre Miller and an opening for a few minutes for guys like Al Harrington and Kevin Seraphin. An injury to Nene created even more space for those two veterans and they answered the call for Randy Wittman‘s team. Michael Lee of The Washington Post with the details:

Kevin Seraphin couldn’t get overly concerned when he saw Nene crumple to the ground in pain, then hop off the court and through the tunnel toward the Wizards’ locker room on his good, right leg. Coach Randy Wittman called on Seraphin immediately after Nene went down with what the team is calling a sprained left knee in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 96-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Seraphin had to be ready.

“Yeah. I saw him leave, but when we’re in the game, we have to be focused on the game,” Seraphin said.

The Wizards (28-28) were only up by three points at the time of Nene’s departure and they have typically become flimsy when their most gifted big man is unable to finish a game. Washington squandered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead when Nene was ejected with roughly three minutes left in Oklahoma City, lost in overtime to Milwaukee when Nene strained his right Achilles’ tendon, and suffered a controversial defeat in Houston after Nene fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

After Luol Deng completed a three-point play to bring the Cavaliers within 73-72 with 93 seconds left in the third quarter, the Wizards were once again in danger of letting a winnable game get away from them. Then, Wittman put veteran Al Harrington on the floor and he made two huge shots – a driving layup and a three-pointer – to send the Wizards into the fourth period with a six-point lead.

“I was just looking for an opportunity. I was ready, obviously, the situation with Nene allowed me to do a little more,” Harrington said. “It’s tough. He’s been playing some great basketball, so that was tough to see. Hopefully we can get him back sooner than later, but guys got to step up. I think we got enough guys that can do that.”

Harrington didn’t score for the rest of the game. But Seraphin came through with two huge, 10-foot jump hooks to push the Wizards ahead 82-74 early in the fourth quarter.

“He’s capable of doing that,” Wittman said of Seraphin. “The more he simplifies his game the better. Sometimes he likes to trick people, and we got to get him just to be simple. That’s his move and he does it very well. Big couple of shots he hit.”

Harrington finished with two rebounds and an assist and tried to extend the lead but missed a three-pointer and Wittman replaced him with Marcin Gortat. “I thought Al gave us a big lift in the second half. He was panting like a dog out there but we got to continue to get him rounded into shape,” Wittman said of Harrington, who played just 31 seconds the night before against New Orleans as Nene matched his career high with 30 points.

***

No. 5: It’s gotta be the shoes for Portland’s Lillard – Portland All-Star point guard Damian Lillard made waves with his busy schedule during All-Star Weekend. There could be more waves on the horizon where he is concerned, courtesy of a budding tug of war over his shoe company. It’s been a while since a battle between shoe giants made noise in the NBA, but Lillard’s story is about to get interesting as Adidas and Nike get ready to tussle over the young star. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com provides the minutiae:

Lillard, 23, has a profitable rookie shoe endorsement deal with adidas, though that could change abruptly due to clever language in his contract.

Being that he took home the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year award, became an NBA All-Star and reached other unique incentive clauses in his first two seasons, Lillard will be able to opt out of his shoe contract at the end of the basketball season and either renegotiate a more lucrative deal with adidas, or open negotiations with Nike, Brand Jordan, Reebok or Under Armor, league sources informed CSNNW.com.

Another source that’s vastly briefed on Lillard’s situation added, “There’s no doubt about it, he’s opting out.”

Rival shoe companies have been well-versed on the matter for months and are expected to make competitive offers, but CSNNW.com is told that Nike stands the best chance of luring Lillard away from adidas.

Adidas is in no position to lose their accomplished young standout point guard.

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is currently viewed as the basketball face of adidas. However, his string of knee injuries in addition to the fact that he has only participated in 49 games in three seasons has adidas apprehensive he can remain the company’s headliner.

In 2012, Rose signed a multiyear deal in the upwards of $200 million.

Lillard hasn’t missed a game in his one and half years as a professional and the way in which he carries himself on and off the court is without glitch if a company seeks to market him as the face of a national corporation.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sunday proved to be a great day/night for quite a few players from around the league. that lists include Kevin DurantJamal CrawfordGoran DragicRudy GayDanny Granger is still MIA for the Sixers on the practice court. The buyout has to be negotiated if he plans on moving on without suiting up in Philly … The Commissioner speaks on openly gay pro athletes … Harvey Araton of The New York Times weighs in on Collins, too, and the impact he can have going forward

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Thomas Robinson showed up and showed out for the Trail Blazers in so many ways …


VIDEO: The Thomas Robinson affair folks

Blogtable: How High For Washington?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


The Suns with Pau | The Wizards? Really? | Blake, Kevin or L.A.?



VIDEO: John Wall leads Washington past Oklahoma City

Could the Wizards end up Top 4 in the East? How’d that happen?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIn the East, if you’re above .500, you’re a contender for a top-4 seed, and the Wizards’ whole season has been about breaking above .500. It dates to last season, when coach Randy Wittman‘s marching orders were basically to be .500 in games in which point guard John Wall was available. They nearly did it, going 24-25 with Wall and 5-28 without him. The urgency got dialed up coming into this season, with jobs on the line if there wasn’t more progress. Trevor Ariza has been a valuable piece this season, Marcin Gortat has been the upgrade Washington needed, rookie Otto Porter basically is a bonus player after missing so much of the season’s first half and Wittman has done a good job with the defense and in cobbling together a rotation from young, overlapping parts. But the Wizards’ greatest asset is its backcourt, Wall and Bradley Beal – skilled and as promising as any in the league.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If they keep playing the kind of solid team defense that’s held down the Suns, Warriors, Thunder and Blazers over the past several weeks, it’s not out of the question, which is how the Wizards are over .500 for the first time since 2009. They’ve got the best point guard in the East in John Wall running the show and the rest of the roster seems to finally be coalescing around him. However, while they are within arm’s reach of Atlanta right now, let’s hold off any certain judgment until they can stay above .500 for a couple of weeks.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Let’s consult the standings: Hmm, yes, the Wiz are No. 5 and although just one game over .500 they’re closing in on No. 3 Atlanta. Yes, by golly, the Wiz can get a top-four playoff spot! How did it happen? This is the East we’re talking about here. At the same time it is nice to see the team heading up instead of drowning like Cleveland or Detroit. I’m happy for coach Randy Wittman, who could have already been fired, but wasn’t. They’ve got health now and, look, this is a nice starting five. John Wall has a case to be the East’s starting point guard over Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal is dangerous and the front line with Nene and Marcin Gortat can be pretty formidable. There’s not much depth, but this group, in this conference, is top-four material.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Because they play in the East. That’s how it happened. A two-game winning streak puts anyone in contention for home-court in the playoffs. Beyond that as the obvious, this always had the potential to be a postseason team. Getting John Wall and Bradley Beal together on the court is imperative. And while it doesn’t get a lot of attention, the Marcin Gortat acquisition has paid off.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It happened because teams 3-15 in the East aren’t very good. Really, whether the Wiz get a top-four spot is as much about the rest of the conference as it is about them. Will the Raptors trade Kyle Lowry? Can the Bulls keep Joakim Noah healthy? Will the Hawks keep hanging on? Have the Nets really gotten their act together? Throw in the Wiz and you should have five teams fighting for the 3 and 4 spots, with one of them stuck playing the Heat in the first round. Washington has been a top-five defensive team since Jan. 1, which is a good sign for them going forward. And of that group, they’ve played the second toughest schedule so far (behind only Toronto). At worst, they should finish fifth.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Wizards could actually be good enough in the Eastern Conference this season. So could the Toronto Raptors … Brooklyn Nets … Atlanta Hawks … or Chicago Bulls. That’s just the nature of the East this year. The Wizards are in that mix immediately after the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, and they have the talent to challenge for that top-four spot in the playoff chase. They need to find a way to stay above .500, now that they’ve finally gotten there. And they need to stay healthy down the stretch of this season. How they got here starts with a defensive-minded group that has been a constant the past couple of years and ends with the arrival of John Wall the All-Star and a supporting cast that has finally grown comfortable with him as their leader. Sustainability is the name of the game in Washington now.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogWatching the Wizards this season, I keep going back to the long conversation I had over the summer with John WallFor a guy who had mostly been up and down the first few years of his career, Wall sounded completely focused. On that day he convinced me that he was the guy to lead the Wizards into the postseason. Of course, I didn’t know the rest of the Eastern Conference was going to become the Leastern Conference, easing the path for the Wiz to get to the top of the Conference.

Davide Chinellato, NBA ItaliaI think the Wizards will make the playoffs, but they won’t get home-court advantage. Since they don’t play in the Atlantic Division, they’d have to pass the Hawks to get it and I don’t think that will happen. The Wizards depend too much on how John Wall plays, while — at least for now — the Hawks are a better overall team.

Adriano Albuquerque. NBA BrasilThey became the team that they were supposed to be in the beginning of the season. The players-only meeting and Nene’s message about “taking their heads out of their butts” worked, brought them back to Earth, and now they’re ready to soar again. John Wall is playing as the best point guard in the East (besides Kyle Lowry), Bradley Beal keeps on showing improvements in his sophomore year, Trevor Ariza came back in the same beat he was early in the season, Martell Webster is contributing, Nene is playing well on both sides of the court, and even Jan Vesely turned into a decent bench player. Yes, they will definitely compete with Atlanta for the non-division champion home-court advantage.

Akshay Manwani, NBA IndiaI think the more important point is that even if the Wizards don’t get home-court advantage, they could still win the first round in the 2014 postseason. Really, any of the teams between 3 to 6 in the East could end up beating the other. But the Wizards were always primed to do well this season with their mix of young talent and veteran presence on the team. A few reasons for their slow start could have been playing 15 of their first 26 on the road, where they earned a 12-14 record and their inability to close out clutch games. They are only 2-5 in games that have gone into overtime.

Wizards Tired Of Being Home-Weary


VIDEO: Wizards grab wire-to-wire road win over Bulls

Book the lot of them into the Willard International NFL-style, sequestered on the night before home games. Maybe assign the team’s PR staff to deliver “room service” to the players at their residences. Figure out some way to incentivize the fans at Verizon Center to cheer for visiting teams and snub the homies.

Oh, you mean like booking the Miami Heat Wednesday night?

OK, that’s a start for the Washington Wizards. The well-established pattern of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the others eliciting more cheers than boos at NBA sites not named AmericanAirlines Arena, often more so than the hosts, might simulate the conditions the Wizards need. Because right now, they’re a better and different team when they’re working outside the District.

With their 102-88 victory at Chicago Monday, the Wizards pulled even at 10-10 in road games, compared to 7-9 on their own floor. They’re one of nine teams that are .500 or better away from home, with only Indiana (12-6), Miami (11-7) and Toronto (10-9) ahead of them in the East.

“Maybe we need more energy from the ‘sixth player,’ ” Wizards big man Nene said Monday. “Yeah, we need more energy. When we have a loud home, they make trouble to the visitor. The last two years, I saw a lot of the crowd cheer for Miami. So let’s see.”

Washington has won seven of its last nine on the road and even though those seven teams currently are a combined 106-156, those games could have been lost, with way less guilt and lots more rationalizing than what the Wizards can muster at home.

A simple breakdown of their play reveals negligible differences, on average, home vs. road. Washington shoots 44.4 percent at home compared to 44.5 percent on the road. Its point differential is minus-0.5 at Verizon, minus-2.0 everywhere else. It has a plus-0.8 edge on the boards at home vs. minus-0.8 on the road.

The most noticeable statistical difference favoring the Wizards’ road work comes from the arc. At home, they average 6.9 3-pointers on 20.4 attempts, a 33.8 percent rate. In hostile environments, those numbers are 8.7, 21.1 and 41.2 percent.

Then again, those environments are always so hostile, which might be part of it. Washington brings in a pretty nondescript roster, despite the talents of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, Nene and the rest. Nobody in the stands has circled them on the calendar as “marquee opponent night.” There is opportunity in that underestimation.

“Ah, I would just say that a lot of teams, when we play on the road, we are not the team that is supposed to win,” Gortat said. “We are the underdog, so to say.”

Gortat also said: “We are capable of beating a very good team and we are capable of losing to very weak teams. At home. We’ve just got to stay smart. I guess it’s just going to be a process for us to become more mature.”

Moments later, the 6-foot-11 center from Poland went into that “mature” stuff.

“We just play more freely. We can focus in the hotel. In the locker room, you’re just sitting in one little room and trying to get ready for the game. I don’t know – at home, there’s just too many rooms, too many places where you can go. Too many places where you can dance and sing and do all [that] crap.”

Time’s up now. Ten of Washington’s next 14 games will be at home, in two five-game sets, the first of which begins against the Heat. Minutes restrictions for healthy-again Beal and Nene are off, so injuries can’t explain away any lack of consistency or focus for now. Nene’s presence in the starting lineup finally Monday had a big impact, his 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and two blocks helping at both ends.

“Being with Nene, man, it brings a lot of attention,” Gortat said. “They always have to make a decision to stay with me on the roll or pick up Nene on pop. And he’s a big dude – he brings a lot of attention in the post. He’s a very good passer so I know I can seal and I can expect that pass. … It’s a totally different story. I’m open on the roll a bit more now and I was able to have a few put-backs, stuff like that. So it helps a lot.”

Time for the Wizards to start writing a different story at home. After Miami, they’ve got Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Boston, back in their wheelhouse of sub-.500s.

Said Wall: “We’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency. We get down early. I mean, the last four or five games, we’ve been done 26, 27. That’s no way to treat your fans the way they’ve come out supporting us this year.”

Hang Time Q&A: John Wall On ‘His Wizards,’ The Evolution Of His Game And RG III




VIDEO: John Wall and the Wizards topple the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — John Wall is far from a finished product. And he knows that better than anyone. 

The Washington Wizards’ point guard and one of the budding stars in a league filled with potential young stars, Wall is currently working through the process of handling responsibilities as the face of a franchise and a player capable of leading his team to the playoffs.

Wall’s off-the-court leadership has grown considerably the past couple of seasons and might be the most critical component for a Wizards franchise that has invested in him for the future to the tune of five-years and $80 million.

Wall reflected on his journey, his future, the Wizards’ playoff hopes, Robert Griffin III and much more in a recent sit down with NBA.com:

NBA.com: What is different about this vibe of this group as opposed to last year or the year before?

JOHN WALL: I think how we came back as a group when I returned from my injury and just playing with the guys, we all liked each other as a team, even though we weren’t winning as much, and enjoyed playing with each other. It’s a trust thing. It’s the first time I can honestly say in my three years playing here that we all enjoyed one another. Nobody cared who scared who scored. We were all committed to what coach wanted us to do defensively and that’s how we came into this season and knew how good we could be.

NBA.com: What about the consistency factor, you guys had so many names and faces come in and out of the lineup? There’s been a lot of movement, personnel wise, since you were drafted.

JW: Basically, the biggest thing was staying consistent in everything we do. Me, trying to get healthy and doing the same things to get better. Staying consistent and knowing what guys you would have on the team in a given year and that guys weren’t going to get traded. We’ve got a good core of guys that we know will be there and what we want to do with those guys. It helps when you are planning long term because a plan is in place and you know exactly what your roles are and what you need to do.

NBA.com: Guys always talk about that turning point or that moment when the light goes on for them. For you, was that moment sitting out the start of the 2012-13 season, learning, watching, processing what goes on from a different perspective other than being on the court?

JW: I think that was the biggest turning point for me, sitting out that long, even though I didn’t want to sit out. Just getting the chance to study the game better helped me. Watching my teammates and seeing what they were great at and then knowing how I could come back and make the situation better, is what helped me. I think those guys made it a lot easier for me. Having Nene and Emeka Okafor knock down shots and finish. Having Brad [Beal] and Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza playing as well as they played. It was the first time I had guys do that and trust in me to lead the team and be their point guard. It makes a difference.

NBA.com: When you came into the league the East was loaded with top teams from Boston, Miami and Chicago to Atlanta and even Orlando. Things have changed dramatically since then. The Eastern Conference is wide open. Is there a now or never feel to this season for you guys, sort of like the door is open and you better get through it now or else …?

JW: It’s a great opportunity. And if you fall short right now, you are basically not committed to getting to where you want to be in this league, whether it’s the playoffs or whatever. My first three years, everybody was loaded. Now there is like four or five teams rebuilding at the same time. And that’s rare in this league. You have to make sure you have a good understanding of where you are as a team and be ready to jump in there if it’s your time. And I think it’s our time right now.

NBA.com: You had an owner (Ted Leonsis) who wasn’t shy about putting the pressure on his shoulders and also yours in terms of bringing the franchise back to a playoff level. He’s banked on you being an elite player and a franchise player. Does that add any extra pressure when you are already the No. 1 pick in your Draft and get the huge contract extension?

JW: I could tell the difference last season when I came back from my injury, just by the type of conversations I was having with my coach (Randy Wittman) and the things we were talking about and my owner and the meetings we were having. It wasn’t just about me improving and getting better, it was about a vision we all had for me and what that means for this team and this franchise. Being in on the planning process and being there from the start makes it different. The general manager coming to me throughout the summer and letting me know this is my team and making sure I understand that I have to lead, that’s all a part of the plan now. And I think I’ve put in the work to do it.

NBA.com: People always talk about putting in the work, but how has your work ethic changed since you’ve been in the league?

JW: My rookie season I didn’t know what to expect coming in. My second year was kind of tough because it was the lockout year. I was working my tail off but I really didn’t know what to do, because there was so much uncertainty. Last year was my first year to really understand the NBA game and comprehend what it was I needed to do and what I needed to work on. Then I get diagnosed with the knee injury and everything went sideways. So this summer I came in early and made sure everything was right, made sure I was healthy. And learning how to change the pace of a game, working on my body and improving my jump shot, those were the things I worked hardest on. I’m constantly getting better in all facets of my game and I think I can keep getting better and better.

NBA.com: Has the leadership component, particularly the vocal part, been tough for you? You’re not an older guy and you certainly don’t strike me as a very talkative guy. How hard do you have to work to remind yourself to be a leader in that respect?

JW: Coach Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari] helped me work on that. I’ve always been a guy that led by example. The vocal part I worked really hard on at Kentucky. He basically said you have to learn how to talk to certain guys. And you can’t go out and try to fuss and cuss guys out. You have to respect each and every guy in your locker room as a man. So I think that’s something I improved in. It helped that when I came back last year my teammates trusted me to be that guy, both with the ball in my hands on the court and without the ball in my hands off the court. Talking to them helped me improve in that area.

NBA.com: You’re also a part of USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team group. When you’re out there with all of the other best young players, all of the other top young point guards, what changes in terms of how you handle yourself and compete in that environment as opposed to being the face of the franchise in Washington?

JW: The toughest thing with that is you get to thinking like high school, especially when all the top point guards are out there. You want to battle it out with those other guys. But you are ultimately out there for USA Basketball, and that’s bigger than your name or the franchise you represent. So you try and just go out there and just play the game and get better, but also show the people in charge at USA Basketball that you can do whatever is asked of you if you are lucky enough to get the call and get asked to play in one of the international competitions. So it’s not an ego thing when you are in that environment.

NBA.com: You seem so much more measured and relaxed about things these days. Is this the most comfortable you’ve been on and off the court since you’ve been in the league?

JW: Yeah, 100 percent. I’d say 120 percent, the most comfortable I’ve been just talking to anybody and going into games, being on the court, and just feeling confident knowing this is the old me. My first three years, I was always kind of searching, how do I present myself and how do I do this or that the right way? The uncertainty is gone. This is the hardest position in the league to me. Every night somebody is coming at you. Seriously. You get no breaks. People can look at the schedule and you see Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon and those guys aren’t always talked about, but some of the toughest challenges I have is against guys like that. Because you have to show them the same respect you do a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.

NBA.com: You have a unique dynamic in D.C. right now, being the young face of a franchise in a city where another player in similar position (the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III) is going through a similar stage of his career at the same time. How strange is it to watch that roller coaster from so close and comparing it your own evolution?

JW: I feel for him right now, I really do. There are some parallels, but then again it’s totally different. He started off hot, Rookie of the Year and all of that stuff. My first couple of years there was a learning curve, some stumbles and a lot of learning to do. Now I feel like I’m finally getting there now, hitting my stride and now he’s struggling. It’s tough and it’s also a reminder of why you have to stay humble and hungry no matter what’s going on around you. Take nothing away from him, he’s still that same guy and still humble and hungry. But you have to be mindful of the fan base and what type of support they’re going to show you. When you’re struggling it gets frustrating for the fans and even more frustrating for us, because you know what you want to do for your city, the things you want them to experience with you playing your heart out day after day. It’s the same for him and the Redskins as is it for us, we’ve got a lot of young talent and people want that to turn into winning. The fans do and so do we.

Back And Forth With Bones: Magic-Wizards

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an e-mail exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-10 Orlando Magic visit the 8-9 Washington Wizards.

Pre-game

Schuhmann: Hey Bones, we got Magic-Wizards tonight.

The Wiz have won six of their last eight games with an improved offense (103.5 points per 100 possessions vs. 98.5 in their first nine games). For the season, they’ve been great on both ends of the floor with John Wall, Nene and Marcin Gortat on the floor with two of the Trevor Ariza/Bradley Beal/Martell Webster group, outscoring opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions. But all other lineups have been dreadful. So depth is an issue, especially with Beal out.

They’re a jump-shooting team. Only two teams (New York and Portland) have taken a lower percentage of shots from the paint. But they’re tied with the Heat for the league lead in corner 3-pointers. Wall has 32 assists on corner 3s (10 more than anybody else in the league) and Ariza and Webster are tied for second with 23 corner threes.

So that has to be a priority for Orlando’s defense, which ranks 26th in defending corner 3s and has been pretty bad over the last nine games after a strong start. I don’t know if Jameer Nelson is available (and the Magic offense has been pretty awful with him off the floor), but the Wall-Victor Oladipo matchup should be fun.

The Wizards have been a good defensive rebounding team with Gortat and Nene on the floor together, but pretty awful when one or both sits. So Nikola Vucevic could have some success if either gets in foul trouble.

Thoughts?

Barry: Yes, Randy Wittman is auditioning players to help take the load off of the starting group. But this game is interesting to me in that there is a lot of positivity regarding the Wizards recent play. Can they accept and continue what it is that has gotten them there?

With Beal out, I am stoked to see Martell Webster getting quality starter minutes, though 40-plus (in three of those) is too many. He’s just ready to get in there and mix it up, being a pro.

Watching John Wall balance out his game tonight will be key. Quality possessions against a team in Orlando that competes and shares the ball on offense are a must. The bigs must stay out of foul trouble for Washington.

Orlando is not a huge dribble-penetrate attack team other than Oladipo. It’s interesting that the Wiz have had this stretch with Beal (NBA minutes leader and their leading scorer) out.

Is Arron Afflalo an Eastern Conference All-Star? Hard to say he hasn’t played like one.

Schuhmann: Nah, the East All-Stars should just be six players each from Indiana and Miami.

Barry: Add four from the West to the East. Any player born east of the Mississippi can qualify for East team headed to NO!

(more…)

No Panic In Wall Or These Wizards




VIDEO: John Wall and the Wizards topple the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – He could have hidden, deflected the pressure or even blamed someone else when the Washington Wizards’ season got off to a rocky start.

John Wall is still a young player in the NBA, still learning how to lead a team. Few people would have blamed him for taking the easy way out when things weren’t going according to plan.

Wall, however, is cut from a different cloth. He didn’t flinch. He stayed the course, weathering whatever the haters and naysayers threw at him and his team, and helped guide the Wizards through the tumult of the first two weeks of yet another injury-plagued season. What looked like a potential meltdown waiting to happen two weeks ago appears to be back on track today, what with the Wizards fresh off of an 8-8 November (the franchise’s highest win total in that month since 1984).

Wall refused to panic and would not allow his teammates to do so either as they picked up the pieces early and kept grinding until they figured some things out. That 2-7 start is a thing of the past. The Wizards, winners of six of their last 10 games, are poised to continue their climb upward tonight against the Orlando Magic (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

And that’s just the way Wall planned it, as he told Michael Lee of The Washington Post, sort of:

“I think everybody [else] panicked,” Wall said after Saturday’s 108-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks. “We didn’t panic because we know we have a good team and we know we have a team that’s capable of being in the playoffs. We know we got off to a rough start . . . but we figured out a way to win.”

With Bradley Beal sidelined with injury (for at least another week), Trevor Ariza joining him on the injured list and veterans like Nene clashing with youngsters in the locker room, things could have gotten a lot uglier before they got better. That 2-7 start could mushroomed into something even worse. Coach Randy Wittman is always on the hot seat and the sluggish start can only serve to make matters more complicated for a coach in this league.

“It was a tough start to the month, to the season. I don’t think any of us wanted the start we had, but it happened,” Wittman said. “And there’s going to be stretches again during this year where we have to get ourselves out of this and get on a run. To do what we did in this month with the schedule we had and the road games, I think it’s good. I think you have to be ready to take advantage of the situation when it turns your way.”

The Wizards banded together and worked their way out of that early season mess to move into a position to reach the .500 mark, provided they handle the Magic tonight, since Wall arrived with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. This is what Wizards owner Ted Leonsis was talking about all summer, when he was praising Wall as (and paying him to be) the leader of this bunch.

Not only did Wall raise his game — earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors last week and cranking out 22.6 points,  8.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals — he made sure that his teammates assumed their positions as well. They’ve responded in words and actions, taking advantage of a feeble field in the Eastern Conference to move into the playoff picture, as many of us expected them to this season.

“Never in our minds did we doubt that we were not this team that we’ve built all these expectations up to be,” said Martell Webster, whose contributions during this resurgence have been critical. “We’re headed in the right direction. We’re not at .500 yet. We have the opportunity to be there Monday. The goal is to get, of course, way above .500. It’s just consistency. Realizing the fact that when we play the game the right way, we tend to get great results.”

Now that they are on the rebound, chasing those expectations should be a bit more manageable. That brutal opening stretch of the schedule that saw them face a virtual who’s who of league powers from both sides of the conference divide, and 10 of 16 away from home, is over. Once they get Beal, their leading scorer, back, things should get a little easier for Wall. And we still haven’t seen prized rookie Otto Porter Jr. (hip flexor), who just started practicing full tilt.

But no matter what happens, we’ve already learned a good lesson about the Wizards.

There is no panic in them or their fearless young leader!

Wolves, Wizards On Different Paths




VIDEO: Kevin Love is all smiles after a win over Cleveland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In an effort to soften the blow, we put our sunglasses on when scanning back at our preseason predictions for this season.

There are so many hits and misses, it helps to have a little shade to work with for the ugly misses. For every prediction we hit out of the park (thank you Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves), there is a prediction that seems to go horribly wrong (there’s that mess in Cleveland and, of course, that wobbly start from John Wall and the Washington Wizards).

The BluBlockers are needed for tonight’s Timberwolves-Wizards matchup tonight in D.C. (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), a duel between teams on very different paths early on this season. Both teams are loaded with young talent and have quality depth. But the results have been vastly different for the two teams that are inextricably linked — Wizards coach Randy Wittman used to be Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman while the boss in Minnesota, Flip Saunders, once coached the Wizards.

While Wall and the Wizards have struggled to an ugly 2-7 start, including their current four-game losing streak, Love and the Timberwolves have shown themselves to be an exciting and aggressive crew.

At 7-4, the Wolves are living up to all of the hype, internal and otherwise. Love, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea and Co. have managed to take on heightened expectations and handle them appropriately. Throw in that Chase Budinger is back and practicing with the team and Minnesota is looking even better.

Love is in the MVP mix, coach Rick Adelman‘s got his supporting cast thriving and the roster’s balance and depth is finally paying dividends. The Wolves are in the midst of back-to-back grueling stretches of five games in seven nights, a mettle-testing, early-season grind that will could serve them well months from now.

Tonight’s game kicks off a monster week that will see Adelman’s team face off against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night at home and the Brooklyn Nets Friday at the Target Center. Then comes a road date in Houston with the Rockets on Saturday and they’ll finish this stretch up in Indiana on Nov. 25.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“I don’t know if [the league schedule-makers] know that we’re almost to Canada and Houston’s almost all the way to Mexico,” Adelman told reporters Monday.

When your team is top three in the league in scoring and set to get another boost whenever Budinger returns to the rotation, none of the teams you are blindsiding will grant you any sympathy.

The Wizards, meanwhile, could use a little sympathy … and anything else they can get right now. When their owner, Ted Leonsis, used every opportunity in the lead up to the season to tout his team as a legitimate playoff contender in the East, he surely did not envision this humbling start.

Signing Wall to an $80 million maximum contract extension in August was supposed to be a sign of the commitment Leonsis was making not only to the young face of the franchise, but to the future. Wall was not only going to be the change agent for the Wizards on the court, his extension was also supposed to serve as the symbolic change in the way the Wizards did business going forward.

Veterans would see that the organization was serious about putting the resources in the right places and taking that next step from playoff pretender to contender. But it didn’t take long for reality to set in. As sound as the plan looked on paper, the Wizards simply didn’t have the right mix.

As talented as Wall and his backcourt mate, Bradley Beal one of a handful of early candidates for the league’s Most Improved Player award — surely are, something is still missing.

As my The Beat colleague and TNT’s own David Aldridge pointed out in The Morning Tip, Wall does not shoulder the burden of the Wizards’ slow start on his own. They’re not the same defensive monster they were a year ago, not with Marcin Gortat taking Emeka Okafor‘s place in the lineup.

A top-10 defensive unit last season, the Wizards are now a top-10 scoring team but falling woefully short on the defensive side. As DA pointed out, the slightest tweak to the Wizards’ rotation and chemistry has altered the product on the floor dramatically:

Nene, whose antipathy for banging in the post was well-known, was especially good with Okafor. The quintet of Nene, Okafor, Martell Webster, Bradley Beal and Wall was one of the league’s best defensive fivesomes last year. It’s not that Gortat is a horrible defender. He tries. But opponents, according to the league’s player tracking stats, are shooting 56.7 percent against him on shots at the rim. (By comparison, opponents are shooting 31.4 and 31.5 percent, respectively, on shots at the rim against New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez.)

“March has done a good job for us,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Saturday. “No question, ‘Mek was solid back there for us, the last line of defense for us, with his basketball knowledge. I think what March brings, though, is that big guy who can challenge at the rim. He’s also got a very good IQ. Defense is a matter of getting your knees dirty each and every night. It’s not a fun thing, but it’s a valuable thing. That’s where we have to get back to, understanding how valuable that is for us to be a good team.”

A good team?

How about a playoff team?

After all, that’s what we all predicted for the ‘Wolves and Wizards this season. But as of right now only one of these teams is living up to that expectation.

One Team, One Stat: One Great Lineup For The Wizards


From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Washington Wizards, who had something to build on last season.

The basics
WAS Rank
W-L 29-53 t-23
Pace 94.4 15
OffRtg 97.8 30
DefRtg 100.6 8
NetRtg -2.7 20

The stat

84.4 - Points allowed per 100 possessions by the Wizards’ lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Nene and Emeka Okafor, the league’s best defensive lineup among 158 that played at least 100 minutes together.

The context

Not only was that lineup ridiculously good defensively, but it was pretty strong offensively, scoring 108.4 points per 100 possessions. Overall, only one lineup around the league was better in as many minutes. That Knicks lineup included Jason Kidd, so you could say that the Wizards’ lineup is the best returning lineup in the league.

The unit allowed opponents to shoot just 50 percent in the restricted area and 13-for-53 (25 percent) from 3-point range. It didn’t force a lot of turnovers, but kept its opponents off the free-throw line and was great on the glass.

The video above is from a Jan. 26 game in which the Wizards’ starting lineup outscored the Bulls 27-16 in 12 minutes. It turned into a 13-point win for the Wizards, who went 11-7 in games that this lineup played together. That included a 6-1 mark against playoff teams.

The issue, of course, is that 18 games and 142 minutes isn’t a lot. Wall missed the first 33 games of the season, Beal missed 24 of the last 39, and Nene was in and out of the lineup all year. The lineup wouldn’t have been able to sustain a +24.0 NetRtg over 1,000 minutes, but the Wizards would have been a much better team if these guys were all healthy.

This year, Okafor is already out with a neck injury and Nene says his knee is “still sore” and his foot “still hurts a little bit.” The two were a big reason why Washington ranked eighth in defensive efficiency last season. The Wizards allowed 97.1 points per 100 possessions in 912 minutes with the bigs on the floor together.

Wizards opponents attempted only 43.8 percent of their shots from the paint last season, the lowest rate in the league. That number was just 41.2 percent with Nene and Okafor on the floor together.

With those guys protecting the paint, the Wizards’ perimeter defenders were allowed to be more aggressive. And when the Wizards got stops, Wall was able to get out on the break. He ranked third in the league with 5.5 fast break points per game. If Okafor isn’t healthy, Washington will have a difficult time remaining a top 10 defensive team and Wall will get less fast-break opportunities.

But the developing chemistry between Wall and Beal is still something to look forward to. Beal shot 50 percent (33-for-66) from 3-point range and 47 percent overall with Wall on the floor last season. He shot 34 percent from 3-point range and 39 percent overall with Wall off the floor.

One final note: Given the success of this lineup, it was surprising to see Randy Wittman start Trevor Ariza instead of Webster in the Wizards’ first preseason game on Tuesday. Even if you ignore the bigs, the Wiz were a plus-18.7 points per 100 possessions in 303 minutes with Wall, Beal and Webster on the floor together.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions