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There are no moral victories in sports, but after the Wizards fell to the defending world champion Golden State Warriors, 126-118, at Capital One Arena, one could be encouraged by the showing from the home team.
Washington’s lone hopeful All-Star, Bradley Beal, believes the Wizards are playing some of their best ball of the season but knows how far the team still has to go if they want to accomplish owner Ted Leonsis’ edict of making the playoffs this season.
“I think we’re turning a corner,” Beal says. “We’re still not there yet. We still have to dig ourselves out of this hole that we’re in. There’s only a short amount of time to do it, but we have a great opportunity in front of us.”
The Wizards are still in the playoff hunt. With 35 games left, the team is just two and a half games back from a coveted post-season spot and have won seven of its last eleven games. Recently, the Wizards have shown signs of possessing untapped potential.
Head coach Scott Brooks mentioned after the game that his team came into the contest with the intention on taking some things away from Golden State and a quick glance at the boxscore will tell the story of how Washington purposefully did not want the Warriors to beat them from beyond the three-point arc. Golden State only attempted 20 threes in the game even though they’ve averaged 33 three-pointers per game this season.
In an attempt to stop the Warriors from shooting from deep, the Wizards left their defense susceptible to backdoor cuts and their poor switching allowed for Golden State to score a season high 70 points in the paint.
“We wanted to take away a couple of their things and we did just an average job on some of our switches,” Brooks said after game. “They’re gonna make some shots, but I thought we gave them too many straight-line drives and some of our switches were mistakes and they got layups.”
The team also continued its strategy this season of switching on defense instead of playing man-up. Golden State’s head coach Steve Kerr forewarned of the risks involved from teams playing that style before the game, and cited personnel reasons as to why it is a risky proposition for most teams.
“I don’t think it’s sustainable,” he said. “I think it’s very much dependent on your personnel and we happen to have the personnel to really make switching work. Most teams don’t have that kind of personnel and if you try it without having that personnel, you leave yourself pretty vulnerable.”
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Steph Curry was one of the main beneficiaries of the lapses on defense from the Wizards, as he finished with a game high 38 points, despite only hitting two three-pointers. Curry did his damage around the rim and his play allowed his teammates to do the same.
Although the strategy of switching ultimately cost the Wizard, it doesn’t mean Brooks erred in his strategy. The team just did not execute it properly. Washington starts four players who are at least 6-foot-5, and its center, Thomas Bryant is a mobile 6-foot-11 force.
Savvy defenders with length such as a Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green, and Otto Porter Jr. are more than capable in staying in front of the opposition on most nights, but the Warriors are able to move without the ball at east and score back-breaking layups before the shot clock expires.
The Wizards will be on short rest this week. Immediately after the game, the team boarded its chartered buses and headed to the airport to catch a flight to face the Orlando Magic.
The Wizards shouldn’t overlook the Magic, who are just a half a game back from Washington in the standings.
“Obviously, it’s a tricky, tricky game, because we are now back-to-back against Orlando who is kind of in our standings,” says starting point guard Tomáš Satoranský. “We have to do it tomorrow, but obviously it shows you we are on a good way.”
Beal is feeling confident that the Wizards can play like they did against the defending champs. And good things will happen if they do.
“We competed our tails off and if we continue to do that, we’ll be fine,” he says.
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.