March 2, 2018 | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.
Friday night’s entertaining battle between the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors marked the fourth and final matchup between two of the Eastern Conferences biggest contenders. Going into the game the Wizards had led the regular season series 2-1, but with the help of CJ Miles and his six three-pointers off the bench, the Raptors were able to come away with a big 102-95 victory on the road improving to 44-17 and remaining atop of the Eastern Conference.
(Photo: Ned Dishman via Getty Images)
Turnovers and Sloppy Play
Turnovers were a major fact in the loss against the Raptors. The Wizards finished with a total of 18 turnovers allowing Toronto to score 27 points off of the costly mistakes. This has been a recurring issue since the turn of the calendar that Washington needs to correct as soon as possible. Head coach Scott Brooks discussed this during his post-game press conference.
“Well there’s definitely a lot of moving pieces and parts and we were trying to make some more ball movement and we’re slipping up a little bit too many times,” Brooks explained when asked to try and pinpoint the cause of the turnovers. “It’s costing us leads. It’s costing us ball games. We’ve got to clean it up. We should be in the low number, low 13s. Eighteen as a team, 27 points off of those turnovers. That’s tough when you’re playing the best team in basketball in the East.”
The Wizards’ bench was outscored 50-15. CJ Miles came off the bench and outscored the entire Wizards’ bench with his 20-point night. However, it was not only CJ Miles that came to play. Former Wichita State Shocker Fred VanVleet played 29 minutes and scored 12 points, dished out 3 assists, grabbed 4 rebounds, but most importantly took the assignment of guarding Bradley Beal when he was out there on the court. Washington’s second unit is much improved from last season, but still an overall weakness for the team. After the game, Markieff Morris, who occupies a locker room between Ian Mahinmi and Tim Frazier, expressed to the duo that when they are in the game, even if it is just 13 minutes, should be giving it their absolutely everything for every single second. The constructive criticism from the starting power forward should not fall on deaf ears.
“They got a lot better,” Beal said about the Raptors’ second unit. “I think the last time we played them they had a few guys out. I think [Fred] VanVleet was out and C.J. [Miles] didn’t play either. As of late they’ve been one of the hottest teams, if not the hottest team in the league. So, they’ve been playing at a high level, averaging 50 points off the bench. That was one of our points of emphasis coming into the game. We just got to be better all-around, it’s just not the benches fault. They’re guarding them and out there the majority of the time, but we got to… everyone, it’s a collective effort.”
Lacking Paint Protection
Despite scoring just 19 points combined, relative to their 33 last month, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas gave the Wizards’ big men all sorts of problems with their physical play. Even when Ibaka and Valanciunas were not in the game, big men Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Sikam caused trouble in the paint by using their big frames to extend plays and maintain a presence in the key. As a team the Raptors’ outscored the Wizards’ 44-28 in the paint. According to Beal, giving up 44 points in the paint stemmed from the Wizards’ poor defense as a whole. Too often the on-ball defender was passed with ease putting Washington’s defense in scramble mode.
“Guard your man, just guard your man,” Beal expressed the need. “We start relying on help. Accept each challenge and step up. We realize, and got to know, that these teams are playoff teams and that everyone is preparing themselves for that. They’re attacking us – 40 points in the paint is way too many. We got to do a better job. We can’t always rely on our bigs as guards to step up and block shots all the time. We have to accept that challenge and keep them out of the paint.”
Otto “Max Money” Porter Jr.
If there is one positive thing to take from this game, it is that Otto Porter Jr. is the real deal. Porter led all scorers Friday night with 24 points on just a total of 12 field goal attempts from the field as he made nine of those shot attempts. Not only is he knocking down shots, but he has also been very efficient in doing so. Porter was used as a bridge for the second unit in the fourth quarter, but still did not get enough plays run for him.
“He’s really stepped up,” Brooks evaluated. “He’s making shots. He’s making timely shots. We need it. Unfortunately, we only had three three’s from him. He made two out of three. We could’ve, try to figure out how to get more but he’s been playing great basketball. He’s easy to coach because he plays the right way and he cares and he wants to do the right thing every time down the court. He’s not a thirsty scorer. He’s a good scorer. He gets opportunities when they present himself and he’s just a great ball mover.”
Brutal Schedule Continues
The Wizards are coming off back to back games against the Warriors and Raptors, two of the top teams in the NBA this season. Despite sitting at the fourth seed in the East, the the eighth seeded Miami Heat only trail the Wizards by 3.5 games. This is concerning because the Wizards’ schedule is not going to get any easier. Out of the last 19 games of the season, 13 of those games will be against teams currently in the playoff race. This includes match ups against two games against the Spurs and Celtics, as well as a match up against the Timberwolves, Cavaliers, and Rockets.
“It was a tough week, but it’s only going to get tougher,” Beal said. “We still play teams out West that are playoff teams that are really good, and we come back and play teams in the East that are really good too. We start with one on Sunday, so our job is not finished. We got realize what’s at stake and we’re only a month away. It’s going to come fast and it’s going to smack us in the face if we’re not ready. So, we just got to be prepared mentally and physically and do whatever it takes to win.”
Next Game: The Wizards will take on the fifth seeded Indiana Pacers on Sunday night in the Nation’s Capital as they look to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the 2017-18 season.