Posts Tagged ‘Randy Wittman’

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…)

Immersed in their own playoff series, Wittman’s, Thibs’ thoughts with Doc

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

CHICAGO – If the pressures on an NBA head coach during the regular season can be described as some demanding boss loudly nagging you for six months that there’s more work to be done, the urgent postseason version would be a Marine drill instructor stalking your every step and screaming 24/7 an inch from your face.

As much as Washington’s Randy Wittman and Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau were dealing with their playoffs D.I., immersed in their Eastern Conference first-round series, they couldn’t help but think about their friend Doc Rivers. Rivers was facing on the West Coast something far more frantic and debilitating as the Donald Sterling fiasco flared up, eating everything in its NBA path for four days.

As the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers – Sterling’s team – Rivers was stuck at ground zero, his ability to focus on the Golden State Warriors waylaid by what became a national scandal and media feeding frenzy.

“I can only imagine – or I can’t imagine – having to deal with something like that when you’re worrying about beating a team in a playoff series,” said Wittman, who entered the NBA in the same 1983 draft as Rivers. They played their first five seasons together in Atlanta, teamed up as investors away from the game and remain extremely close.

Wittman said he had talked to Rivers more than once since Sterling’s racist remarks on an audio recording were made public, leading to an investigation and the swift and severe penalties Tuesday from commissioner Adam Silver.

“I was just trying to be there for him, obviously,” Wittman said. “I think he ‘s handled it as well as you can handle it. That doesn’t surprise me with Doc.

“I just wanted to be there to support him and try to help him get his mind back to what it should be. And that’s playing basketball. I think hopefully after today that can happen.”

Thibodeau has known Rivers for more than 20 years, from the days when the Bulls coach was an assistant in New York and elsewhere and the Clippers coach was playing in the league. They joined up in Boston from 2007-2010, Thibodeau largely installing the Celtics’ defense for a team that won the 2008 NBA championship and went back to the Finals in 2010.

Connecting with Rivers by texts through the controversy, Thibodeau said several times over the weekend that his friend, given his personality and skills, might have been the best equipped among the NBA’s head coach to steer his team – and within his limits, the league – through the furor.

“Because this is a big issue for our whole league,” Thibodeau had said Monday. “Doc is a great leader with a lot of strength, a lot of composure. He’ll help guide us through it.”

Now Rivers can concentrate on guiding the Clippers through it. With peers and buddies who have his back.

No-no Nene, but Wizards still confident

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nene suspended for one game after head-butt

WASHINGTON — It’s one thing to stand toe-to-toe against the raw physicality of the Bulls in the playoffs.

It’s a whole different challenge when you’re missing your big toe.

But with power forward Nene suspended by the NBA for head-butting and grabbing Jimmy Butler around the neck with both hands on Friday night, coach Randy Wittman says the Wizards are still on solid footing.

“We’re more than capable with who we have on this team,” he said a short time before the suspension was announced. “That’s just it. It could happen to anybody. … Somebody could come in sick and somebody’s gotta step up. That’s cliche, I know, but that’s the way it is.”

The Wizards had already completed their Saturday practice when the suspension was made official by Rod Thorn, NBA president, basketball operations.

Nene was unavailable for comment.

The incident occurred with 8:28 left in the fourth quarter of Chicago’s 100-97 win in Game 3, which sliced the Washington lead in the series to 2-1.

After scoring on a fast-break layup, Nene turned to run back up the court and lifted his left arm to clip Butler with a chicken wing as he ran by. Butler objected verbally and reached out with his right hand to give Nene a shove in the side.

As the two players stepped toward each other, the 6-foot-11 Nene leaned down and pressed his head against Butler’s. Then Nene clasped both of his hands around Butler’s neck.

When asked if he thought anything he saw merited a suspension, Wittman replied: “No, I don’t.”

Regardless, the Wizards have to play without their big man, who is averaging 17 points, 6.3 rebounds per game and has done an outstanding job of negating the play in the paint by the Bulls’ Joakim Noah.

The Wizards do have plenty experience playing without Nene as he missed 29 games during the regular season. Washington was 1-6 without him when Nene was shelved for two games with a strained left calf and five games with a sore right foot early in the season. But they were a more successful 12-10 without Nene in the lineup when he suffered a sprained left knee.

“Obviously, it’s gonna be a huge loss for us,” said center Marcin Gortat. “We played without Nene over the 82 games and the situation is totally different then. But we’ll see. We’ll see.

“You gotta bring it. You gotta bring it. There’s an opportunity for me to play bigger role. The inside offense is gonna go through me. I just gotta perform. I gotta be on top of my game.”

Wittman said the last thing he wants his team to do is react to the Game 3 incident by taking the edge off their game and backing down from Chicago’s rough-and-tumble style.

“I told our players, you can be confrontational and do it in a way that doesn’t cost you an ejection,” Wittman said. “We’ve seen it the first two games and nobody’s been thrown out. It’s a matter of making sure in those situations that you keep your composure. It gets physical out there. There’s a lot of pushing and shoving and talking and … it’s a fine line of crossing the line that gets you to the point of ejection or not.

“We just gotta make sure we keep our composure in that area. I don’t want them stepping back at all from a physicality standpoint. Not at all. It just reaches a line and we got to know where that line is.”

Gortat nodded his head in agreement.

“X’s and O’s are one thing,” he said. “At the end of the day physicality is the will of winning the basketball game. … There’s a time to do X’s and O’s and a time to fight and scrap and just play the way they play us. Unfortunately, things went wrong for us.”

The Wizards did manage to duck the double-whammy of losing Gortat as well. Video replays showed the center, who was out of the game at the time, leaving the bench and stepping slightly onto the court when the scuffle broke out.

According to NBA rules, any player who leaves the bench area during a fight on the court is subject to suspension.

“It’s not like I was running and yelling and screaming,” Gortat said. “I was just standing there and had no idea what was going on. At some point actually I realized I was on the court, I started taking steps back because I was like, ‘I don’t think I supposed to be here.’ So I started walking back. I was just shocked what was going on on the court at that time.”

Backup forward Trevor Booker started 45 games this season, many of them when Nene was injured. He was one of the closest players to Nene and Butler when they locked up.

“I didn’t know how far it would go. Unfortunately it went too far where he got ejected,” Booker said. “Somebody else has got to step up. He’s a big piece, but we got some games without him that we won.

“We lost focus, but we’ll get it back tomorrow. You got to do what you got to do.”

Bulls out of scoring options, out of gas?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Taj Gibson talks to the media after the Bulls’ practice on Wednesday

A couple weeks ago, the Chicago Bulls were the team that no one in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket allegedly wanted to play.

In a matter of days, no one might have to.

Unless the Bulls find a way to generate offense late in games, unless they stop trying to beat Washington in three-and-a-half quarters while spotting the Wizards four, the grimiest, hardest-working team in basketball soon will be on extended vacation. For all its pluck, for all its spunk, Chicago is facing a hole as the series shifts to D.C. for Game 3 Friday every bit as big, historically, as losing an MVP (Derrick Rose) or trading away an All-Star (Luol Deng).

The Bulls overcame – maybe compensated for is more apt – the absences of Rose and Deng by shifting those guys’ responsibilities onto others and resolutely playing harder. But down 0-2 in this first-round series, they don’t really have any others left and they might be out of gears.

NBA past doesn’t bode well for the Bulls’ future, either. Only three teams in playoff history – the 1969 Lakers, ’94 Rockets and ’05 Mavericks – won a best-of-seven series after dropping the first two games at home. Houston finds itself in the same predicament against Portland at the moment, but never mind the company; the Bulls are coping with their own misery.

Their vaunted defense, with coach Tom Thibodeau barking orders and Joakim Noah as the newly minted Defensive Player of the Year, has been shredded for 101.5 points and the Wizards’ 48.1 field-goal percentage in two games. Despite opening double-digit leads in both, the Bulls have been outscored in the fourth quarter 51-34 while shooting 35.3 percent (12 of 34), and they missed seven of nine shots in Game 2’s overtime.

As far as seeking help from different sources, there have been no different sources. The bench is thin after Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin, and Thibodeau has coached accordingly: Of the series’ 505 available minutes so far, more than 95 percent (481:33) have been heaped on just seven guys.

Even that is misleading: Jimmy Butler (96:46, including all 53 Tuesday) and Noah (85:36) each has played nearly as much as forwards Carlos Boozer (45:22) and Mike Dunleavy (54:42) combined. Thibodeau has stuck with the rotation that earned Chicago a 36-14 record in the 2014 portion of the regular season. That means Dunleavy has logged less than 10 minutes in the fourth quarters and OT in this series and Boozer has amassed zero.

Because Boozer and Dunleavy are primarily offensive players, not playing them when the points get scarce late in games has focused heat on Thibodeau. To a lot of Bulls fans, it’s like trying to ride out a headache without uncapping the aspirin bottle. But Thibodeau is committed to the late-game lineup that worked so well for so long. And, hey, he knows Boozer and Dunleavy primarily are offensive players too.

“You have to work your way out of things,” Thibodeau said, almost by rote. “We have a lot of guys who have played well in the fourth quarter all year. … We have to do it collectively. And that’s really what we’ve done. When we lost Derrick and we lost Luol, that’s the makeup of our team.

“You can’t get wrapped up in the first two games other than you want to learn from what happened. Get ready for the next one. Don’t look ahead. That’s the way we’ve approached it all season. We’re not changing now.”

Trouble is, Washington has risen to its rare postseason occasion. The Wizards have been feistier at both ends. Defensively, they’re pressuring the ball and almost daring the Bulls’ non-shooters to shoot.

Noah, Chicago’s “point center,” has been attacked when he attempts to handle the ball, ignored if he’s shooting outside the restricted zone and squeezed when he sets up 18 feet from the basket, Wasington’s Nene crowding Noah to limit his passing angles and vision. Nene’s offense has the DPOY sweating and maybe a little rattled, with Games 1 and 2 sandwiching the award ceremony in Chicago with Noah’s entire family in town.

Augustin, this year’s Rose surrogate, has been a scoring godsend, but when 6-foot-8 Trevor Ariza volunteered to guard the smallish point guard down the stretch in Game 2, Augustin was done. He stayed stuck on 25 points over the final 13 minutes.

Wizards coach Randy Wittman even has made the more apparent and successful adjustments so far – in transferring scoring load from frontcourt (Nene, Marcin Gortat) to backcourt (John Wall, Bradley Beal), in deploying veteran backup Andre Miller in key old-school moments – and been rewarded twice. That hits Thibodeau right where his strength is, in the lab, in resiliency.

Consider this role-reversal quote from Gibson on Wednesday.

“We watched the film, it came down to we were like a fingernail short every time. Guys were diving for the balls, scrambling around, and they just made some great plays, playoff-style basketball I guess,” the Bulls’ sixth man said.

“[They are] a hungry team. … They go up, we go up, but the way they start the games off, the way they finish them, especially on defense, getting loose balls, scramble plays, rugged-basketball kind of style, that’s kind of our style if you think about it.”

Actually, it was the Bulls’ style until Saturday. Unless they get back to that in Game 3 and whatever beyond they can eke out, their postseason will become past season in a hurry.

Wittman goes from ‘worst’ to ‘first’ as Wizards make playoff noise

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters take a look at the Wizards’ Game 2 win

The NBA playoffs are only two games old for the Washington Wizards, but that’s enough for their coach, Randy Wittman, to already have gone from worst to first.

Some stipulations on the terms are necessary here: Wittman, whose eight seasons as a head coach have been split among Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington stints, ended the 2013-14 regular season with the worst winning percentage (.367, 191-329) of any NBA coach who has worked at least 400 games. That cutoff covers 90 men and a bunch of Hall of Famers, from Phil Jackson‘s record .704 success rate to Lenny Wilkens‘ .536 over the largest sample size (2,487 games).

Next-worst behind Wittman by a coach who meets the 400-game criterion? Former Washington center and coach Wes Unseld (.367, 202-345). Which means that, if the Wizards go 12-15 in their first 27 games next season, Wittman will climb out of that particular hole.

But he’s already out of the hole in his first taste of the postseason as a head coach. At 2-0, Wittman is in sole possession of the best winning percentage (1.000) in NBA playoff history.

That’s better than the No. 2 man, Jackson (.688), and way better than fellows such as Pat Riley (.606), Gregg Popovich (.618) and Red Auerbach (.589). Of course, those four guys coached a fat, round total of 1,001 playoff games, including Popovich’s work in Game 2 Wednesday against Dallas.

Obviously this all is a hoot, mere fun with numbers. If the Wizards lose the next two in their Eastern Conference first-round series against Chicago, Wittman will tumble all the way to .500. And so on.

But this little bump – not on his resume as much as in how Washington looks to have peaked for this opportunity, beating the Bulls twice at United Center – speaks to the situations Wittman has been in and his ability to survive. Or at least, re-surface.

In and around assistant jobs with Dallas, Minnesota, Orlando and Washington, Wittman got some some typical head coaching opportunities, i.e., bad teams. He went 62-102 with the pre-LeBron James Cavaliers and got fired. He took over when the Timberwolves dumped Dwane Casey (another comeback kid) in January 2006 and went 38-105 before getting the ax himself.

Then Wittman moved one seat over again two seasons ago, after Flip Saunders got fired at 2-15 but encouraged his top assistant to stick around. Wittman steered a motley Wizards group to an 18-31 finish, then went 29-53 last season when point guard John Wall‘s injuries provided at least a reasonable explanation for the struggles.

A former first-round pick as a guard/forward under Bobby Knight at Indiana University, Wittman played nine seasons in the NBA mostly for Atlanta and Indiana. In his assistant stints next to Saunders in Minnesota and Washington, he often was deployed as the “bad cop,” correcting players while Saunders stayed above the fray as the “good cop.”

Over time, borrowing from here and there, Wittman developed his coaching style. And it’s still developing.

“You learn by being thrown into the fire,” he said recently. “And yeah, you learn a ton of things that you like and things that, ‘Boy, you know, I can’t do that. I’ve got to change that part of my coaching.’

“You mellow out a little bit more, you learn to delegate. Back then, you just tried to have your hands on everything, and you can’t do that – it burns you out.”

This season, Wittman and the Wizards were said to have had a fire lit under them: Make the playoffs or (gulp). The franchise’s five-year drought of postseason appearances already was too long for owner Ted Leonsis, and there was talent in place capable of doing better. After a raggedy start – 25-27 through the All-Star break – and an extended absence by big man Nene, Washington started to gel.

Now the Wizards are playing as well as they have all season. Wittman, who worked with a target on his back for a couple of years, is getting credit from the outside and, more important, the inside. He welcomes references to his college coach, Knight, as far as a defensive influence. But Wittman seems to have backed off the scenery-chewing.

“What stands out to me the most, man, is how he stuck with us,” 20-year-old shooting guard Bradley Beal said Tuesday in Chicago. “He came into a pretty bad situation and he basically turned the team around. He’s had faith and confidence in us from Day 1 – ever since I got here, at least – of what we’re capable of doing. And what kind of team we can be.

“For him having played in the NBA helps me out a lot, because he played my position. I learn something from him every day. He pushes us, challenges us every day to be the best we can be. He knew we could be a playoff team at the beginning of the year. Now we’re here. But we’re setting new goals and standards, saying, ‘Let’s get higher than that.’ “

Where was this Wizards team all season?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards stay perfect on Chicago’s home court in playoffs

CHICAGO – In a span of two games, on the road in a tough building, the Washington Wizards have shifted the conversation from how their long-awaited taste of the postseason probably wouldn’t last more than one round to where the heck this team was all season.

When you look at what the Wizards have done in grabbing their 2-0 lead over the Chicago Bulls in the best-of-seven series and apply it to the 82 games that preceded this, it suddenly seems like their 44-38 record and certain middling stats (17th in offensive rating, 20th in rebounding, 25th in foul shooting) represent some shameful underachieving.

Consider some of the things they accomplished on their stay in the Windy City, which wrapped with the 101-99 overtime playoff nightcap:

  • Overcame a 13-point deficit in one of the most boisterous road gyms in the league to grab the series opener.
  • Toyed with Chicago’s vaunted defense at times, as in outscoring the Bulls 61-38 across the final quarter of Game 1 and the first 12 minutes of Game 2.
  • Kept their focus through some physical shenanigans first between Kirk Hinrich and Bradley Beal, later between Trevor Ariza and Joakim Noah, without getting intimidated or spinning out of control.
  • Clamped down defensively again when it mattered most. The Wizards limited Chicago to just 12 points, total, in the final six minutes of the two fourth quarters.
  • Squandered an early 17-point lead in Game 2, fell behind by 10 with seven minutes left, yet caught the Bulls with a 14-4 run to close regulation, Beal scoring nine of those Washington points.
  • Pressured Chicago just as hard at the end as they did at the beginning, limiting the home team to 2-for-9 shooting in the overtime while generating just enough offense of their own (Nene, six points)

Had the Wizards played that way all season, they might have, what … pushed toward 50 victories, which would have been good enough for the No. 3 seed? Put some heat on the Heat in the Southwest Division? Made life a lot easier on their coaches, their fans and themselves by locking up their postseason berth sooner, with a little less late-season drama?

Of course, this team isn’t that team. And vice-versa. The Wizards apparently had to go through the trials of their first 82 to prepare for the moments to which they’ve risen in Games 1 and 2.

“We’re a different team,” Ariza said. “We’re a team that learned from our mistakes. We’re learning to play hard and play through everything. Like tonight, the game, I guess, was a little chippy. We didn’t let that rattle us.”

Ariza, the small forward whose volunteer defensive work on the Bulls’ smaller shifty-quick D.J. Augustin helped to limit Chicago’s scoring options, continued: “We’re definitely more locked in. We’re paying more attention to detail in shootarounds and practice. We’re talking more – communication is a big part of being a good team. And our 1 [John Wall] and 2 [Beal], they’re maturing.”

The Wizards have gone from a 25-27 team at the All-Star break to that unpredictably dangerous bunch that Miami looks wise to avoid as long as possible. By slipping into the East’s No. 2 seed, the Heat kept Washington at bay as long as possible, the Bulls-Wizards winner due to face whichever team emerges from Pacers-Hawks.

Yes, it helps to have Nene healthy, back from his sprained left knee. And granted, tightening the screws on Chicago’s often-gasping attack isn’t the toughest task for a legitimate NBA defense. But somebody was out there sticking to the Bulls’ best weapons.

“That team is under the radar,” Bulls sixth man Taj Gibson said. “They’re a great defensive team. It shows, how poised they were come late [in the game].”

Late in the season, too. As recently as March, the Wizards were giving up 101.4 points per game. In April, that got whacked down to 92.9. Take away the overtime Tuesday and the Bulls have averaged 92.0 in the two games while shooting 42.6 percent. And Chicago has been nearly choked off at times, going six or seven minutes without a field goal.

Stacking up defensive stops like that has a cumulative effect, coach Randy Wittman said.

“It’s going to be easier even when we show ‘em the tape,” Wittman said. “When you get six, seven stops in a row when you’re down 10, that’s how you can win the game.

“We keep track of it throughout the game – how many stops we get in a row. My coaches will tell me what it is, and if it’s one or two in the course of a game, that’s not very good. We got it going there at the end of the fourth quarter where I think it was six or seven. That energizes those guys too – they take pride in it.

And lo and behold, Washington is up 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series for the first time since 1979.