Posts Tagged ‘Randy Wittman’

Blogtable: New coaches, hot seats

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


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

> With so many new coaches — all but two teams have had at least one new coach in the last six years — is there anyone out there in danger of getting canned this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So you’re suggesting Scott Brooks suddenly has job security and is free from speculation about his continued employment? Well, that would be a first. Look, no coach is entirely safe once a team gets to the point of needing to do … “something.” If the roster and payroll are locked, people start to look to the sideline. Brooks and Kevin McHale both are working in environments of impatience, with the Thunder and the Rockets antsy for bigger prizes by now. Memphis’ Dave Joerger already was out of his job once — on the brink of being hired by the Timberwolves — but he went back to what might not be the most stable gig under owner Robert Pera. And since no team is facing expectations more goosed than Washington, a slow or even middling start by the Wizards could have folks looking cross-eyed again at Randy Wittman.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What if Jason Kidd quickly concludes that he doesn’t like it in Milwaukee and decides to stick a knife in the back of another coach for a different job? But seriously, this is the modern NBA, where patience and reason are always in short supply. Frank Vogel won’t get a totally free pass if he can’t at least keep the Pacers battling and competitive in the absence of Paul George. If New Orleans can stay healthy, Monty Williams will be under the gun to at least get the Pelicans back into the playoff race. And keep an eye on Kevin McHale, in the final year of his contract in Houston, with a Rockets team that now has fewer weapons.

Memphis' Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Memphis’ Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not only are there so many first- and second-year coaches out there, but coaches like Washington’s Randy Wittman, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Portland’s Terry Stotts all signed extensions so they’re seemingly safe if their respective clubs were to take a step back. In the East, Indiana’s Frank Vogel certainly seems vulnerable after last season’s fade, but the loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to injury could alter thinking there. Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn will be working with an extraordinarily young team so not sure what can be expected there. In Milwaukee, I suppose Jason Kidd will determine his own fate. Out West, most everything is either well-established or brand new. But there are a couple situations to keep an eye on. Monty Williams’ future could get muddied if the Pelicans don’t rise up, assuming good health, and Sacramento could lose patience with second-year man Mike Malone if the Kings stumble early.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bucks. Oh, you mean where the general manager fires the coach, not the other way around. Never mind. In that case, let’s see how new best buddies Dave Joerger and Robert Pera get along in Memphis if the losses start to fly. Maybe it doesn’t happen — the Grizzlies could be good. If not, though, how long before old tensions return?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I wouldn’t put anyone’s job in danger in this space, but Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale and Monty Williams need to deliver better results this season. Brooks has done a great job in Oklahoma City, but this is now his seventh season and Sam Presti needs to decide if he’s the guy to get the Thunder over the hump. McHale lost some of his roster’s depth this summer, but needs to coax a top-10 defense out of a team that features Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard. And speaking of that end of the floor, Williams has a defensive rep and a beast of a franchise player, but New Orleans has ranked 28th and 25th defensively the last two seasons. With the development of Anthony Davis and the addition of Omer Asik, the Pelicans need to make a big leap on that end.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After the way Larry Drew was treated in Milwaukee, anyone not named PopovichRivers, Spoelstra, Van Gundy or Saunders has to at least be on alert that a change could be made under extreme circumstances. Coaches no longer have to be concerned only with external expectations impacting their job security. These days the perception from within (Mark Jackson in Golden State) can get you whacked suddenly. That’s why both Randy Wittman in Washington and Monty Williams in New Orleans will operating under unique circumstances. Both teams will be expected to be considerably improved from last season, not only in the win-loss column, but in the larger context of the league hierarchy. Even with an extension signed, Wittman cannot afford for his team to take any steps back. The Pelicans will be led by one of the brightest young stars in the league in Anthony Davis and will expect to at least be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture, albeit at the bottom of that rugged top eight mix. If at any point it becomes clear that these guys cannot get their teams to the next stage of development, the coaching hot seat will have two prime candidates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Even though so many coaches are still in that honeymoon period with their current teams, it seems like something crazy always happens. Who would have thought Jason Kidd would end up in Milwaukee, or that Dave Joerger would almost end up in Minnesota? Neither of those guys were fired, though, but I wouldn’t say the hot seat has completely cooled off. All it takes is for one owner to be unhappy with his team’s performance or placement in the conference — particularly in regard to wherever that owner believes they should be. I am not saying this will happen or should happen, but will ownership in Sacramento, where they are desperate to be competitive, be patient with Mike Malone? Will the Rockets continue to allow Kevin McHale to build what they’re working toward? I hope so. It would be nice, for a change, to have a season without any firings/hirings. I’m just saying, don’t bet on it.

D.C. dreaming of Durant homecoming?


VIDEO: Kevin Durant sits down with NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James followed his heart back to Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony just couldn’t leave his native New York. And Dwyane Wade declared his love for his adopted hometown of Miami.

With all of the talk this summer of stars coming home, staying home and their teams and their cities, can you blame folks in Washington D.C. for daydreaming about a day and time when the NBA’s reigning MVP would consider doing the same?

No one represents for the Washington D.C. area harder or better than Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. And that might explain why folks in the DMV (the urban area encompassing D.C., Maryland and Virginia) are already buzzing about a Durant homecoming one day.

Even if it is just a pipe dream, one that Thunder fans want nothing to do with, it’s one that is being talked about two seasons before Durant becomes a free agent. Washington Wizards fans and observers are already daydreaming about what their up-and-coming team can do to lure Durant back home come the summer of 2017.

Former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer Gary Williams knows the area and it’s basketball DNA well. He’s convinced Durant will call the area home again one day and last week made his feelings clear on the topic to a local radio show (courtesy of Dan Steinberg‘s D.C. Sports Bog):

“One interesting thing on this LeBron going back to Cleveland, Durant’s watching that very close,” Williams said on ESPN 980 last week. “He’s seeing the adulation pouring out for LeBron James for coming home. And Durant loves this area. He does. He’s back every summer. He plays at Montrose [Christian] against their high school kids sometimes; he’s out there taking charges. He just loves to play basketball. He’s been over at Maryland, he plays with the players over there. He just wants to play. And these are where his ties are. I know one thing, when his career’s over, I’d be shocked if he didn’t live in this area.”

“I think you go in steps,” Williams later said. “I don’t think [Paul] Pierce comes here unless the Wizards did what they did in the playoffs this year. So now take that a step further. If they do make another really strong playoff run this coming year; now all of a sudden there’s somebody that good that’s out there, they have to look at the Wizards. Because I think all those guys – Durant included – are looking at if I go here, will they be good enough to win a championship? So if the Wizards can show that maybe they’re just missing a Durant to win a championship, I think they have a good chance, I really do.”

Williams also discussed former Maryland women’s assistant David Adkins, a one-time Montrose staffer whose hiring by the Wizards helped set off this latest round of intense speculation.

“I know Davis,” Williams said. “He’s Mr. Workout Man. In other words, he loves doing individual drills with players. He knew Durant from Montrose. … He worked with Greivis Vasquez. And he’s really good at what he does.

As easy as it is to dismiss these thoughts as the musings of wistful Wizards and area hoops fans who want to see a storybook homecoming play out in D.C. the way it did in Cleveland this summer, we’d probably be foolish to ignore this completely. Had someone told you three or four years ago that LeBron would leave town the way he did and then come riding back into town a hero this summer, you’d have called them crazy.

While he remains a cult hero in his native DMV, especially for kids who idolize him, Durant has adapted well to each and every environment he’s been in. He’s just as beloved in Oklahoma City as he is around the country and really around the globe. And he doesn’t appear to be homesick or stuck in the tractor beam that seems to be pulling so many of his peers home.

Durant left home as a teenager and spent a year in college at Texas before being drafted by Seattle and then moving to Oklahoma City when the franchise relocated there. He’s become an integral part of whatever community he’s lived in each and every time.

And who knows what goes on for Durant and the Thunder over the course of the next two seasons. If LeBron’s homecoming doesn’t result in any titles or even a trip to The Finals, the decision will be panned universally outside of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. A would-be trend could be over before it gets started.

That said, the Wizards, or any other team boasting the hometown connection, would be crazy not to at least dream about and explore the possibilities.

They’ll boast young stars in All-Star point guard John Wall and budding star shooting guard Bradley Beal that would be attractive running mates for any superstar on the championship hunt.

The tug of home could be powerful in 2016.

That daydream could become a reality … one that gives us flashbacks to the summer of 2014.

But in the meantime, Durant and Russell Westbrook have unfinished business in Oklahoma City …

Wizards’ Wall catches up to series

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Wizards and Pacers meet for a crucial Game 6 tonight

WASHINGTON – Every coach’s fear in the playoffs is that, if a series lasts long enough, talent will out.

That is, for all the crafty strategies and flawless execution and tireless effort devoted to stopping or containing an opponent’s strength or star, and however effective it might be through three, four or five games, what’s behind that particular greatness will bubble to the surface in time. The great ones – teams or players – adjust and re-adjust, and in time refuse to be denied. (It cuts both ways, of course, but you know coaches, mostly worrying about the other guys.)

That’s how the Indiana Pacers ought to be thinking about Washington’s John Wall at the moment, as they try to close out their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Wall spent most of the first four games stymied by the Pacers’ defensive attention in the halfcourt, their diligence in getting back to slow the Wizards’ pace and his own shooting. But in the Game 5 victory Tuesday that staved off his team’s elimination, Wall scored 27 points (17 in the third quarter on 6-of-8 shooting) and served as triggerman for a road-resuscitated Washington attack.

The fourth-year point guard, an All-Star reserve this year, had carried the weight of the Wizards’ 3-1 deficit through the first four games, taking heat for his 11.5 ppg and 31.4 field-goal percentage. The inexperience at which he, backcourt mate Bradley Beal and coach Randy Wittman had scoffed looked real and very much in play. Wall was starting to withdraw and sound defeated. “It’s definitely tough and frustrating,” Wall said, after a Game 4 finish Sunday in which he passed up a game-tying shot. “I’ve been as aggressive as I can be.”

Or so Wall thought. Then Wittman pulled him aside Tuesday morning in Indianapolis and gave him license to play “like a wild man.” Teammates such as center Marcin Gortat noticed Wall’s retreat personally and made sure to pick him up.

“John was a little bit different [Tuesday],” Gortat said late that evening, after a career night of his own (31 points, 16 rebounds). “For the first time in 102 or 103 games we’ve had this season, he didn’t want to talk to anybody. … He didn’t rap before the game, he didn’t laugh before the game.”

Gortat had seen all sorts of folks assure Wall he would play better in Game 5. Gortat didn’t make hang his support on that, though.

“When the 25th person approached him, it was me, and he was like, ‘I don’t want to hear [anymore].’ I was like, ‘No, John, there’s just one thing I want to tell you: I’m with you. It doesn’t matter which way it’s gonna go. I’m with you,’ ” Gortat said.

“We can’t put pressure on a guy who plays for the first time in his life in the playoffs. He’s whatever, 23 years old. You can’t just blame the kid for everything. Every time our team loses, we blame him. I understand he’s a leader, he’s the head of the snake. But there’s another 12 guys on the team, there’s another six, seven coaches. We can’t do this kid like that.”

Wall played as if unshackled. He got a pair of layups in the early minutes and helped rev the offense to 13 fast-break points while building a 45-38 lead. But it was more than that – the Wizards only scored four points on the break in the second half, yet outscored the Pacers 57-41. It was a pace thing, in Wittman’s view, all flow and timing while maxing out what was available in the 24-second clock. Even the fat rebounding edge (62-23) can partly be attributed to the rhythm with which Washington played, with Wall conducting.

“He gets the ball moving from side to side and we get bodies moving and the ball moving,” Wittman said. “We are not a team that can iso or a team that can do a two-man game. We have to have five guys moving and I thought he was the spark behind that.”

At this late stage of the series, with Wall’s confidence replenished, that will not be easy. The Pacers’ best bet? Stay in front of him as much as possible and funnel penetration toward 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert. Even if it means going under screens, anyone’s best chance against Wall’s wild-man speed is to make him a shooter. Otherwise he gets defenders on their heels, first physically and then mentally.

Beyond that, only a quirky shakiness that settles into Washington’s game at the Verizon Center might help. He’s been one of the Wizards who, all season, has performed better on the road than at home.

But this series may have lasted long enough to cure that ill, too.

Blogtable: Coaching musical chairs

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.


BLOGTABLE: Sold on Heat? | Unrest in coaching ranks | Clippers-Thunder lessons


Stan Van Gundy (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

New Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

> What’s with all the coaching unrest? Do you think there are coaches in the playoffs that could be whacked? Would that be smart?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Smart? I seldom think it’s smart to fire a head coach. But that’s something owners can do and a lot of these owners like to do … well, something. Paying off a fired coach while hiring a new one doesn’t bite you on the salary cap or in luxury taxes, so what the hey? The shorter player contracts in the league now might have made me think coaches would last longer – you can change the roster more quickly to suit a guy’s system – but it seems like it has shortened their shelf life as well.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWasn’t it just yesterday when Frank Vogel was supposedly sitting out on the curb like a Hefty bag on trash day? I supposed a sweep or five-game loss to Miami could put him back out there. I don’t think that’s smart. If the Thunder don’t get past the Spurs, Scott Brooks is on shaky ground. If they don’t get past the Clippers, he’s probably out.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I was looking at this yesterday and 21 of the NBA’s 30 teams either have an opening or a coach that just completed his first or second season with that team. Mark Jackson was the fourth coach over the last two years to be fired after a 50-win season. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported during the first round that Frank Vogel is coaching for his job. No word on how far he has to get the Pacers, or just how ugly they have to get. While there’s no reported guillotine hanging over Thunder coach Scott Brooks’ head, there’s always speculation. Smart to fire a playoff coach? Denver did it and they missed the playoffs. Memphis did it and they’re out in the first round. Unless there’s a Doc Rivers sitting out there, it’s probably not a wise move.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: What’s with all the coaching unrest? There’s nothing unusual going on. Coaching unrest is typical. It doesn’t have to be right. It’s the way of the NBA world, and it’s understandable. If expectations are not met, changes are going to be made.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Every situation is unique. Mark Jackson’s disconnect with Joe Lacob had nothing to do with Mike Brown’s disconnect with Kyrie Irving. So there’s no easy answer for why so many coaches (and so many coaches of good teams) have been fired. But it’s clear that the job requires success on several fronts.  You have to have strong relationships with your players, strong relationships with your front office and ownership, an offense that works, a defense that gets stops and an ability to make adjustments within a game and within a playoff series. Most importantly, you need some talent on your roster. If there’s an issue with any one of the above, it may not matter how good a coach you are otherwise.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This a question better suited for the front-office types and owners around the league who keep shuttling coaches off to the unemployment line after successful seasons. Because it honestly makes no sense in some of these cases to make the changes that are being made. This idea of turning over your entire basketball operation to a front office novice (like they did in New York and now Detroit) is a bit interesting. Those are test cases that will determine whether or not teams go down that path in the future. But there are coaches (Frank Vogel in Indiana, Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City) who could make it to their respective conference finals and still not avoid the executioner’s ax when the season ends. It’s a sad but true fact of life for coaches in this day and age.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: It’s always easier to change coaches than players. It’s not always the smartest thing, but it’s easiest, and that is often the way things work around the NBA. To me, the two remaining coaches who must be sitting on the hottest seats are Randy Wittman and Scott Brooks,. Frank Vogel might be in the mix there, too, but I don’t know how you can fault Vogel for his players playing like they had their skills abducted by the Monstars in “Space Jam.” Wittman’s task was to get to the postseason, which they have, and they still might make the conference finals, so I’d guess he’s safe. Which leaves Brooks, who might not have the deepest roster to work with but continues to leave fans wanting.

Fun gone, Pacers cannot stand success

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Gortat’s big game helps Wizards beat Pacers, stay alive

INDIANAPOLIS – As they lick their wounds again and assure themselves, again, that they’ll be all right, the Indiana Pacers might be revealing what their biggest problem is in this Eastern Conference semifinal series and perhaps has been for a while.

They aren’t fearful of the Washington Wizards. They aren’t overmatched or intimidated, and they certainly aren’t taking the Wizards lightly.

The Pacers are jealous of the Wizards.

Oh, to be younger and inexperienced and unencumbered by expectations. To be the underdogs – ahh! – who had the ability to surprise and overachieve and feel good with each little victory, regardless even of the outcome of games. It wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were that team.

With the Miami Heat grabbing all the attention from The Decision of July 2010 going forward, with the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose playing peek-a-boo as regular-season heroes and a legit but hobbled contender, it wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were the Wizards.

On the rise. playing with abandon. Making names and reputations for themselves, with little or no anxiety over disappointing someone. That’s the Indiana team that earned all the respect and preseason predictions heading into 2013-14, that’s the Indiana team that had all the fun.

But that Indiana team is gone forever, erased by the Pacers’ success through the first four months (46-13 through March 2) and weighed down ever since by the expectations, knee-deep praise and dealing with the shift from chasers to chased.

You scoff? Who had more fun in Game 5 Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the on-the-brink Wizards or the three-games-to-win-one Pacers? The game was a rout, with Washington leading by as much as 30 while pounding their hosts in all sorts of NSFW ways on the glass.

Nearly tripling the other guys in total rebounds (62-23)? Whoa. Wizards coach Randy Wittman paused and admitted he never had seen anything like that. For much of the night, Marcin (The Dream) Gortat had as many boards as the whole Indiana team. The upstarts wound up with nearly as many offensive rebounds (18) as the Pacers grabbed defensively (19).

Gortat attacked Indiana from the start like he sensed their vulnerability, the tentativeness that has hovered over the East’s No. 1 seed since March. He tossed in hook shots, threw down dunks, mixed in a turnaround or two from the baselines and growled loudly enough that Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi sought cover.

But frankly, they had company on a Pacers squad that, lately, might not say boo if you took their jerseys, their dogs and their parking spaces. If Larry Bird wasn’t sick to his stomach watching his team’s performance Tuesday, then the smirking assassin everyone remembers from his Boston Celtics days either has been lobotomized or gelded.

“It’s everything: Shocking. Disappointing,” said forward Paul George, who would have had to ring up another 39 to keep his team in this one. He didn’t, scoring 15.

“We’re better than that. No way we should allow a team on our floor to outrebound us by 40. Regardless of if we’re playing a team full of 7-footers. That’s unacceptable.”

It was, in short, the kind of performance a bunch of newbies might be permitted to have – not far off Washington’s 63-point mess in Game 3 – but not the big, bad leaders of the East.

“Not when you’re a group that’s been together for a while,” George said, agreeing. “Not with a group that, like us, has been together, been through so much. A lot of adversity. It should be easy to treat a game like it’s a win-or-go-home game, especially when you have the opportunity to close them out. We’ve done it before in other series, where we took care of business when we needed to. So it’s no excuse for this one.”

No excuses, just explanations. Gortat having the night of his life, banging and scoring enough for both himself and the barely visible Nene. Wittman had his players pressure up defensively this time, exploiting Indiana’s unreliable ball handlers and, more important, dialing up the game’s pace to more than walk-it-up.

And then there was John Wall, Washington’s point guard who had sputtered through most of the first four games. He is kind of a one-man Indiana in terms of his career arc and the expectations heaped upon him now, four years in with an $80 million contract, All-Star acclaim and impatience among Wizards fans for something beyond individual achievements.

Gortat spoke after the game of the shell into which Wall had retreated all day Tuesday, no rapping, no laughing, hardly any words. Wittman did what he could to try to shake him loose from it.

“John was down on himself a little bit this morning,” the Wizards coach said. “I told him, the point where he’s getting in his career, he’s an All-Star and now he’s in the second round of the playoffs for the first time, that ‘you have to have a thick skin. You have to forget quickly and you have to move on.’

“I told him I wanted him to come out tonight and just play like a wild man. ‘If you have 20 turnovers, you have 20 turnovers. I want you, though, energizing our guys, racing the ball up and down the floor, defensively getting after it,’ and he did that.”

Wall played with an abandon the Pacers, however much they once had it, lost around the time our clocks sprung forward. He finished with 27 points – 17 in the game-breaking 31-14 third quarter, when he topped the Pacers by his lonesome – and was woofing by the end.

Wall had more fun, and a sense of relief and rebirth, than the entire Indiana squad. Over on the other side, George was trying to explain, and maybe sell, what had gone on with his team at the absolute worst time. And you could sense some longing for the days when he and the Pacers were the ones trying to make their bones.

They’re at the other end of the expectations now.

“We get too happy. We get too happy,” Paul said. “We don’t carry that same mindset after we win a couple of games. We get comfortable and we feel like, because we’re starting to play a little better, that things are just going to get right. We don’t bring that edge, that these are must-win games.”

The Pacers claimed they tried to play Tuesday as if they were facing a Game 7. They failed, instead inching closer to a real one.

Much to prove in G5 for Pacers, Wizards

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Let’s Go! Wizards-Pacers Game 5

INDIANAPOLIS – Both the Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards have opportunities to prove something Tuesday night in Game 5 that doesn’t have much to do with the conclusion or extension of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.

Sure, the Pacers hold a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. But this one is important unto itself for what it might say about the Pacers or, more accurately, permit them to say about themselves.

All is well? You’re right where you were supposed to be? Maybe, maybe not. Indiana has had false starts before over the past month or so. Victories over Chicago and Miami, nailing down the East’s No. 1 seed, ousting Atlanta from Round 1 – those all supposedly were all-clear signs, only to have Indiana veer soon enough off the rails again.

Now they have the Wizards where they want them – on the brink of elimination, on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court – and a chance to smack down what had been a hot team and a trendy East semis pick just a week ago. The Pacers got an other-worldly game from Roy Hibbert in Game 2, pounced on a stinko performance by Washington in Game 3 (hey, almost every playoff team has one at some point) and rode on Paul George‘s lean shoulders to their comeback from 19 down in Game 4.

This would be the one, then, in which the Pacers could do themselves and their fan base proud. Start their engines, stomp on the pedal, click off 48 minutes worth of counter-clockwise laps and send the Wizards from the Brickyard to the graveyard. By ending this in a gentleman’s sweep, by asserting some real No. 1-ness over the conference’s No. 5 seed, by skipping the drama and drain of another trip to Washington and grabbing some flex days for themselves before opening the East finals at home, they could convince a few more skeptics and add legitimacy to their claim of being, y’know, back.

They also could back up what their coach, Frank Vogel, said last Sunday about playoff experience, something the Wizards are just now sampling. Remember, this season, this postseason push, is the culmination of something Indiana has been building for four years. One round, two rounds, three round, with its sight set on The Finals now.

That’s why the questions about playoff experience – habitually dismissed by Randy Wittman when asked about his youngish Wizards – get embraced by Vogel.

“I actually think it’s a big deal. It’s a big factor,” Vogel said. “I think experience in the playoffs gives you confidence. Not just overall experience, but experience as a group.  This group has been there. They’ve got an incredible young nucleus and they have veterans that have been there, but not this unit. I think it’s a factor and hopefully it continues to work well for us.”

Wittman wants to cast that theory aside, at least until his players get their exit interviews. After Game 4, the Wizards’ newness to all this was offered up as an explanation for getting outscored 57-37 in the second half. And for a failure to execute with 6.1 seconds left and a chance to tie. And for every mishap before or in between.

“Why do I want to talk about inexperience? All that is is an excuse,” Wittman said. “I don’t want our guys looking for an excuse. They’re gonna grow, they’re gonna continue to do the things that they’re gonna do. This is a process. All right? But right now, I’m not blaming any of this on any youth or inexperience or who’s been in the playoffs and who hasn’t. We’re in the fight. We’ve got to stay in the fight. No excuses. And we’ve got to do down and win a game.”

The Wizards will need John Wall to do better than 11.5 points a game on 31.4 percent shooting, and to have more of a plan when he drives the ball besides simply shying away from the 7-foot-2 Hibbert. The big fellow has been in Bradley Beal‘s head, too, but with George blanketing Beal on the perimeter, the middle might be Beal’s best bet.

George, after his 39-point burst in Game 4, is going to require more professional defense than Trevor Ariza gave. The Nene who caused such fits for Chicago and center Joakim Noah in the first round is scoring just 11.8 points and pulling down just 4.3 rebounds a game in this series. He’s shooting 35.7 percent.

And then there is the third quarter, an Indiana strength all season and current a Washington crisis. The Pacers have controlled those 12 minutes after halftime in all four games, with a combined scoring edge of 42. The rest of the quarters the Wizards have been plus-19. It hasn’t mattered.

“We haven’t been able to figure that out,”  Washington’s Al Harrington said Sunday. “That’s been us all year. [In the] third quarter, we just always seem to come out slow and sluggish. And then we find a way to ramp it up toward the end of the quarter and throughout the fourth quarter. In the playoffs at this time of year, you can’t afford that, especially against a good team.”

Indiana can reassert itself as that and sway some remaining doubters. Washington can learn on the fly and claim the knock-knock-knocking stuff is overrated.

That’s what is on the line in Game 5.

Wall seeks break-out game, Pacers pray

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers-Wizards: Game 4 Preview

WASHINGTON – John Wall‘s breakthrough this season for the Washington Wizards, beyond staying healthy, has been his ability to take the team’s pulse, on the fly, and more often than not provide precisely the right mix of scoring, playmaking, defense, leadership and pace.

It’s a tricky formula, crafted from feel rather than from recipe, tweaked from night to night, subject to the competition, swings in momentum and assorted circumstances. And at the moment, it’s off. Way off. “New Coke” off.

Wall’s growing maturity in reading a game hasn’t averted Washington’s 2-1 hole in the best-of-seven series with the Indiana Pacers. Even when he reverted to some me-first tactics in the ugly Game 3 Pacers victory, his teammates didn’t prosper, the payoff wasn’t there and the fourth-year point guard never could find the right gear.

“John was trying to push it,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after the 85-63 loss. “I didn’t think we had [four other] guys running with him the way we are capable of doing,”

Springtime is for graduations, but this is a school with few shortcuts to a degree. As eager as Wall and the Wizards are to startle the NBA again (having already beaten Chicago) by advancing to the Eastern Conference finals, class still is in session for the playoff newbies.

Playoff games come rapidly. Series, even those that go long, begin and end in a fortnight. Guys like Wall and Bradley Beal can learn as they go, but a lot of what they’re uploading now won’t fully get processed until they’re done. The Wizards will be better for this – whatever this is, all the way up to The Finals – in the coming years. But it’s coming at them now.

“I can’t even process it or even think about it,” Wall said after practice Saturday at the Verizon Center. “Basically you’re trying to prepare yourself and think about each game, and look forward to the next one. We’ve put [Game 3] behind us. Watched film today of what we need to do and what we’re capable of doing.”

The video from Friday’s game revealed plenty of the former, in all its conspicuous absence, but not much of the latter. There wasn’t a Wizard among them who played well; forward Trevor Ariza was the best of the bunch with 12 points and 15 rebounds, but Washington needed something more like Ariza’s Game 1 output offensively (22 points).

The rest of them missed shots, missed free throws or turned over the ball, and Wall did all three, with the additional culpability of not dictating the pace better for their offense. Forty-eight hours after bemoaning their inability to run – they had just a lone fast-break point in Game 2 – the Wizards knew they had failed again in merely tying Indiana, 8-8, in that stat in Game 3.

Wall knew, too, that “pace” is bigger than a few quick, breakout baskets.

“It ain’t just about pushing and trying to get fast breaks,” the point guard said. “It’s about putting pace into the game and getting a lot of possessions. That’s when we’re at our best.”

“Just after misses or makes, I think we still have to push the ball. Sometimes when they make it, we try to walk the ball up the court. Then you’re getting into your offense at like 10 or 11 seconds – then you’re basically going to stay on one side of the court the whole time. We’re a better team when we get it up there at 18, 19 seconds and go side-to-side to make those guys move.”

Spotty ball movement contributed to Washington’s 32.9 percent shooting (24 of 73). That led to Wall forcing a few things, which led to his seven turnovers. In this series so far, he is averaging 11.3 points, 7.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals. In the two losses, Wall has missed 18 of his 26 shots and owns a minus-25 in the Wizards’ 26-point scoring deficit.

While Beal, the 20-year-old shooting guard, has boosted his performance in the postseason – from 17.1 points per game to 19.6, from a 14.3 PER to 17.7 – Wall has not. He is shooting 34.2 percent (15.8 percent on 3-pointers), his offensive/defensive ratings have flipped (106/104 in the regular season, 98/102 now) and his own PER has fallen from 19.5 to 14.5.

Wall, 23, continues to work and learn daily from Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell, who was a master of mid-range shots and pace (without nearly Wall’s foot speed). The point guard and Wittman talk 1-on-1 almost daily, and especially after games. “We’ll sit down again [Sunday] morning and go over some things that I think he’ll be able to take advantage of,” Wittman said. “But we’ve always done that.”

The Pacers don’t expect that chat to get too intricate. “I think our guys are just running back and praying because it’s obviously a very tough assignment to stop him in the open court,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys made some spectacular plays in those open-court situations, but you can just hope to limit him as much as possible, he’s so electric.”

Paul George said his team remembers all too well the 37 points Wall hung on them in April 2013 when he shot 16-for-25. “We understand that at some point, he’s going to have a good game,” said George, an East All-Star teammate of Wall in February. “He can single-handedly beat us.”

Wall claimed the Wizards’ loss in Game 2 was his responsibility, though it seemed more like a leadership move than an accurate assessment. He was back to exuding confidence Saturday in spite of the second defeat.

“I think I’m going a good job. Nobody on our team’s really shot the ball well this series, to be honest,” Wall said.

“The Game 2 loss was definitely mine. But other than that, I just run my team as much as possible. Try to get those guys going. I know my team feeds off how I get into the paint, how I get guys open shots, and also create for myself. So unless I’m doing that job, then I’m not doing my job.”

Wizards flex rare road-court advantage

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Go inside Randy Wittman’s huddle in the Wizards’ Game 1 win in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS – In their development as a young, formidable NBA team, the Washington Wizards’ preternatural ability to win road games is like putting their socks and shoes on before pulling on their pants.

It seems so out of order.

A tradition built from vapor, too. The Wizards were 22-19 on the road this season, tied for the league’s eighth-best mark (their 22-19 home record ranked only 18th). That was a remarkable leap considering Washington was 7-34 a year ago, 9-24 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and 3-38 the season before that.

This trend has only intensified lately: The Wizards are the first team to win their first four road playoff games, all against higher-seeded opponents, since the New Jersey Nets managed it in 1984. They knocked off the Bulls in five games by winning all three at Chicago’s United Center. Then they grabbed the series opener Monday against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Traditionally in this league, teams on the rise learn to take care of business at home, then aim for .500 as they grow and build.

“Winning on the road’s a belief,” coach Randy Wittman said before his team’s practice Tuesday at the University of Indianapolis. “You’ve got to believe you’re going to go into any gym … and if we do things the way we’re capable of doing, we’re gonna win. A lot of times before [this season], you could play your best game and not have a chance to win.”

Wittman may be right in touting the intangibles involved in winning on the other guys’ courts because statistically, there is scant evidence to explain the success. Washington scored a little more on the road (101.0 vs. 100.3) but defended worse (100.5 vs. 98.3) than at home. Its differentials in rebounding, assists and shooting percentages showed little impact.

Individually, point guard John Wall averaged 3.4 ppg less on the road, with a 41.2 FG% that drooped from his 45.3 at home. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal showed some notable gains away from Verizon Center: 3.4 ppg and a bump from 39.8 percent shooting to 43.6 percent on the road. His offensive rating jumped from 97.0 to 106 in the NBA’s other buildings.

Forward Trevor Ariza also bumped up, by 2.9 ppg and with an offensive rating of 114 compared to 108 at home. He shot significantly better, inside and outside the arc.

Then again, winning as often on the road as at home doesn’t require big shifts in production; it mostly asks that a team’s performance doesn’t drop off in hostile environments. That’s where Washington has been notable – so much so, it was the only team in the league in 2013-14 that didn’t have a worse record on the road than at home.

“Your guess is as good as mine. But I think we like playing against other crowds,” Beal said. “We were the total opposite last year. I think we come out a lot more focused. We’ve bought in. On the road we’re not worried about too many distractions – it’s just us.”

Center Marcin Gortat has talked of this occasionally this season – a tendency not only to be distracted by the demands of daily life when playing in D.C., but to relax and expect more help from a crowd at Verizon Center that tends to be more wait-and-see. Some think that Wall and others focus too much at home on entertaining and rousing Wizards fans, compared to just sticking it to the throngs in the other arenas.

“When I played in Portland, we weren’t a good home team but we were dominant on the road,” guard Martell Webster said. “We play for each other on the road – same as at home – but I guess you feel a little more complacent and comfortable at home. On the road, there’s more of a sense of urgency and guys understanding that the odds are stacked against us. For us, that was comfortable. We enjoyed doing that.”

Said veteran forward Al Harrington, who rarely has seen this trend in his stops with seven different franchises: “I don’t know if it’s because we’re away from our families and stuff where guys can really lock in. But this is a great group where nobody goes out the night before games. Guys take it very serious, that next game.

“There’s no curfew. We could do whatever we want to do, but these young guys choose to stay in. I think that’s the biggest difference – we come out on the road with so much energy, so much focus.”


VIDEO: Wizards grab early advantage with Game 1 win in Indianapolis

24-second thoughts — May 5

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: John Wall and Bradley Beal had their way with the Pacers in Game 1

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The first round of the NBA playoff could not possibly be topped by the conference semifinals, not after all of the fantastic and dramatic action we witnessed the past two weeks.

Well, a man can dream can’t he?

Game 1 — Wizards @ Pacers

24  If this was a track meet, the Pacers shouldn’t even take their sweats off …

23 – Pacers starting this one the way they played most of the first six games against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round … and then cranked it up, temporarily, like it was Game 7 …

22 – Tired? Haha. Never!

21 – It’s a fair question at this point. Do the Pacers look like the title contenders we thought they were at 33-8?

20 – Deep down, I’d have loved to rock that wicked get up Serge Ibaka wore into the arena tonight, hat and all, to my 8th grade dance. Oh and Russ Westbrook is on his own, too …

19 – Just Say No to some photo shoots!

18 – It’s not just me raving about the Wizards’ young backcourt duo. Even Hall of Famer Gary “Mr. The Game Is Too Soft These Days” Payton had to give it up to the youngsters …

17 – What he said …

16 – Some things you know are just wrong and cruel and aw, forget it!

15 – Hawks guard Jeff Teague said it best …

14 – It’s like the Rude Boys and the late great Gerald Levert said back in the day, for the Pacers it’s “Written all over your face!”

13 — Welcome to the club Randy Wittman. The Wizards coach joins Pat Riley (first 5 with the 1982 Lakers) and Mike Dunleavy (first 4 with the 1991 Lakers) as the only coaches to win their first four road playoff games. Not bad for a guy who has been on the hot seat in Washington forever.

Wizards snatch home court, for the second straight series,  just like that!

Game 2 Clippers @ Thunder

12 – Chris Paul silences his haters early with 17 points in the first quarter and a 5-for-5 effort from deep … en fuego!!!!!!!!

11 – Straight from the Silver Linings Playbook …

10 – I realize this is a totally inappropriate time and place to bring this up, but can they not find a sleeve for Blake Griffin’s monstrous right elbow? Padded. Because it could easily be used as a weapon if he was the sort of cat who didn’t mind skirting the edge of fair play during a game. #justasking

9 – Clippers running a clinic on the Thunder early. One team with a Game 7 hangover … and it’s not the crew that had to board a plane to get to this game …

8 – Thunder raising the white flag early with Kevin Durant guarding Chris Paul 30-feet away from the basket. Seriously, this is not a recipe for success Scott Brooks! Meanwhile, comedian Kevin Hart has already tapped out the Inside Crew with this one …


VIDEO: Kevin Hart is spot on with his take on TNT’s Inside crew

7 – Clippers’ flow on the road is on another level tonight. You need the right quarterback to do this on the road …

6 – Still no news on that Knicks coaching search …

5 – CP3 is in silly mode now. A ridiculous 8-for-8 from deep as the Clippers keep piling on the Thunder. He’s going to miss at some point, just maybe not tonight …

4 – How are you going to see the comeback if you head for the exits before the game actually ends?

3 – The Chris Paul Show ended a bit early, but he was every bit as good as it looked. Thurman Thomas on Tecmo Bowl good!

2 – The Clippers indeed started this season as one of the deepest teams in the league on paper, Metta. But the Knicks? C’mon man ,,,

1 – Clippers dish out the worst home loss the Thunder have suffered since moving to Oklahoma City from Seattle. Ouch! Masterful effort from CP3 (32, 8-for-9 from deep, and eight assists) and others. Spectacular work from Doc Rivers. A Hall of Famer says so …


VIDEO: Just one of the many highlights from The Chris Paul Show Monday night in Oklahoma City

Wizards’ Leonsis savors playoff payoff

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards close out Bulls with 75-69 win in Game 5

CHICAGO – Training wheels off, coddling over. Ted Leonsis stood in the hallway outside the Washington Wizards’ dressing room at United Center Tuesday night and let the warm glow of accomplishment and expectations met wash over him.

His NBA team had just completed its gentleman’s sweep of the Chicago Bulls, the so-called “wild card” club that other Eastern Conference foes allegedly wanted to avoid. Washington, so inexperienced (no playoff appearances since 2008), so unprepared, not only flexed superior talent but beat the Bulls at what those guys do best: defense, rebounding, hustle, the proverbial grit of the game. And did it by sweeping all three games on Chicago’s court.

Leonsis had staked out this sort of thing back at the start of the season, and not in the most delicate terms. So as a coach or a player walked by and occasionally wrapped him up in a hug, Leonsis mostly beamed.

“For the last two months, you could really see this team coming together,” the Wizards owner said. “Our young kids are starting to get that experience. And they didn’t look scared at all. After the first game, we said, ‘We’re going to be OK,’ because John Wall and Bradley Beal just looked and felt like they belonged.”

Wall, the third-year point guard, had been the answer-in-waiting, a Jimmy John’s-quick ball handler who needed to stay healthy enough, and trust in his teammates enough, to bring Leonsis’ vision into focus.

“I think it just took time for me. My first couple years, I was dealing with injuries and not playing the full 82 games,” said Wall, 23. “They did a great job of rebuilding and adding great pieces around me, veteran guys and also in the draft. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to get better, to better my game as a player and also stay healthy.

“Sitting out [40 games] last year kind of let me know what this team could be. … We built this as a group. We trust each other. We do everything as a family. And that’s the reason we’re playing good basketball right now.” (more…)