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Film study: Marcin Gortat responsible for Dwight Howard's outburst ... fact or fiction?

Film study: Marcin Gortat responsible for Dwight Howard's outburst ... fact or fiction?

ATLANTA — After any bad loss by the Wizards, there’s usually one or two people who are given all the blame. First rule of thumb is that the coach is always one of the two. The next is a player, and often it’s based on the boxscore -- his numbers vs. the numbers of the guy he's guarding.

For the 114-99 loss at the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday in the regular-season opener, that would be coach Scott Brooks and Marcin Gortat.

I hesitate to criticize a coach, especially one such as Brooks in his first game with his new team, without knowing the reasons behind his moves or non-moves. Do some players know the playbook better than others? Is anyone out of shape? Has anyone cut corners in practice or has to have a message sent so that player doesn’t play?

Not suggesting here that any of these things are the reason but only the coach knows those motivations. Everything else is pure guesswork and speculation from armchairs – or in my case, press row.

So let’s focus on what we do know about Gortat because, in Rasheed Wallace syntax, “video don’t lie.”

Gortat had just four points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes. His counterpart with Atlanta, Dwight Howard, had 11 points and a game-high 19 rebounds in 30 minutes.

The Wizards were outrebounded 52-40 and were mauled in second-chance points 20-6. But if judging performance was as simple as reading stats, what's the need for film study? 

The explanation from Gortat: “He maybe wasn’t a huge threat offensively but unfortunately on the glass he’s always going to be a threat. He just always stays around the rim.  He’s so big, so athletic, physical that every time when I take my body off it’s tough for the other guys on the team. Everybody else is smaller. He gets pretty much every offensive rebound if I’m not there. It’s tough. They drive to the paint, you got to help, somebody’s got to help and leave him open. It’s a pick-and-choose situation.”

Fact or fiction?

I'll stick to the first half because that's when Howard made his greatest impact. He only had two points and four rebounds in the second half. 

1st quarter

  • The first basket for the Hawks comes on a dunk from Howard, who collected a miss from Kent Bazemore's miss for a putback. That avenue was created because Gortat had to help thwart Bazemore's path to the rim. If he doesn't step over to contest, Bazemore has a bucket. But who helps Gortat? Markieff Morris, originally guarding Paul Millsap, passed him off to Gortat. He couldn't stop Bazemore and Howard simultaneously. (10:55)
  • Millsap goes at Morris and Gortat sticks with Howard and forces him out of bounds so that when the ball goes up and off the rim, Morris has a clean get. Gortat doesn't grab the rebound but clears the space for his team to get it. That's every bit as good as the rebound itself. (9:23)


  • Dennis Schroder manuevered around John Wall to get into the lane and Gortat stepped up. Gortat didn't contest what ended up being a miss and Howard's momentum just cleared him out for the offensive board. Bazemore misses but Gortat was too flat-footed here. Just got outworked for the ball. The anticipation wasn't there. (8:55)


  • Schroder gets past Wall, who appears to be gambling for the block from behind, and into the lane. Gortat has to help and contest but Howard -- again -- slips inside to grab the offensive board. Gortat does a better job contesting here and forces the miss. (8:06)

  • Schroder blows by Morris but this time Gortat stays with Howard rather than helping with Howard off to such a fast start. Schroder short-arms a chip shot at the rim but 9.9 out of 10 that's layup. (6:00)


  • Gortat stays connected on the pick-and-roll between Schroder and Howard and anticipates a lob over the top. The swatted pass sends Bradley Beal in transition for a bucket to tie the score at 14. (5:16)


  • In a 2-vs.-2 situation, Gortat disconnected from Howard to put a body on Mike Muscala, who is 6-11. Howard grabs a missed jumper from Tim Hardaway on the other side for the rim for an easy putback and his fourth offensive rebound.(4:30)


  • Gortat battles Howard on a three-point shot that's errant from Muscala. Gortat bodies him under the rim, which operates as shield, so Howard can't get to the rebound. (4:04)

  • Howard is out of the game, but as Hardaway tries to run baseline to the opposite corner Gortat chips him with a shoulder to disrupt the action.  (1:50)


  • Gortat gets an isolation on the undersized Muscala for a quick mid-post/jump hook. (1:32)


Gortat played the entire 12 mintues of the first quarter and returned with 7:11 remaining before halftime:


2nd quarter

  • Schroder misses a long jumper and Gortat seals Howard from the rebound and taps the ball to Wall to send the Wizards into transition. (6:32)


  • Humphries misses and Morris gets the rebound. Even though Gortat didn't get it, he kept Howard off the glass which is another example of how helping your teammate get the rebound is just as valuable as getting the rebound yourself. (5:31)

  • Gortat gets left in one heck of a predicament. Humphries peels off screen on Porter who doesn't follow him into the paint, dives to the rim and Gortat, already on Howard, has to defend two Hawks at once point-blank range. He does the right thing and forces Humphries to make the pass (not his strength) and Beal recovers to foul a bad foul shooter in Howard to force him to earn the points. (4:37)

  • After a timeout, Thabo Sefolosha runs screen-roll with Howard, gets past Porter and Wall reaches in from the nail. Gortat has to step up to seal the penetration with Howard diving to the rim behind him. This creates a Howard vs. Porter mismatch at the rim and as Hardaway misses long, Howard misses the putback, gets his own rebound and Gortat comes back over to help prevent an easy bucket. Porter charged with a foul for grabbing Howard's arm. (2:48)


  • Gortat fights hard to front Howard after he stepped out again to assist Thornton on a pick-and-roll with Hardaway. He contains the ball and Gortat managed to get over the top of Howard to seal off Bazemore's drive by Wall but that put him out of position. Howard scooped up the loose ball but missed his shot. Hawks did score though. (1:15)


  • Gortat defends pick-and-roll with Bazemore and Howard and gauges it perfectly with Wall. Bazemore, however, makes the right read and locates Millsap sinking in the deep corner for the three. Andrew Nicholson left him to support Gortat to prevent a lob to Howard. (20.8)

There were a lot of defensive breakdowns around the ball, before it got to the rim or inside to Howard, that go far beyond Gortat who did a decent job. Having Ian Mahinmi (knee surgery) would help the Wizards immensely here so they can keep a fresh, big body on Howard at all times but the perimeter defense can't roll out the red carpet and allow free paths to the basket.

When these teams rematch Nov. 4 at Verizon Center, let's see what adjustments are made by Brooks.

To answer the question in the headline, fact or fiction that Gortat was primarily responsible for Howard's big night? Fiction. And in his quote, he told the truth. Howard flourished when Gortat was put in help situations and he didn't get the same help in return, a principle of team defense.

UPDATE: Brooks after practice Saturday afternoon in Memphis on this issue: "When you go back and look at the film and you say, 'This guy had seven or eight offensive rebounds,' the natural thing is to think Marcin or the big guys didn't block out. The bottom line is we got beat off the dribble. When you get beat off the dribble so easily you have to have a big helping. But the big has to have trust that he's going to have help when he helps his teammate."

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NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

The 2017-18 NBA season has reached the halfway point with the 2018 NBA All-Star Game taking place in Los Angeles, Calif., this weekend.

But as the season shifts toward the second half NBC Sports Washington is taking at the major NBA awards and which players are positioned to bring home the hardware at the end of the 2018 season.

The season is far from over the second half is where the awards are won. Will Ben Simmons hold on to his lead in the Rookie of the Year running? Will LeBron James surpass James Harden for the MVP award?

Below are the detailed results of the NBC Sports Washington NBA midseason awards. 

The voting panel consists of NBC Sports Washington's Steve Buckhantz, Kara Lawson, Chris Miles, Travis Thomas, Adam Wise, Chase Hughes, Nick Ashooh and Troy Machir.


2017-2018 NBA Midseason Awards

Rookie of the Year:

Nick AshoohDonovan Mitchell, Jazz. While Simmons gets to work with another franchise player in Joel Embiid, Mitchell saw Utah's second-leading scorer traded at the deadline (Rodney Hood), and has had center Rudy Gobert miss tons of games with injuries. Mitchell is the first rookie to lead his team in scoring during a winning streak of at least 11 games and he leads all rookies in scoring, on a team that could make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

Steve BuckhantzBen Simmons, 76ers. Rookie of the year would be Ben Simmons, and while there are more than one outstanding young players in the game, he seems to be the most unstoppable and the one with the greatest upside, especially if he hones his shooting skills.

Chase Hughes: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons has returned from injury to be a rookie sensation, consistently flirting with or recording triple-doubles. He is going to be an All-Star for a long time.

Kara LawsonBen Simmons, 76ers.

Troy MachirBen Simmons, 76ers. This is tough because Simmons 1) isn't really a rookie 2) Doesn't have any range on his jump shot, and 3) gets to play with Joel Embiid. Donovan Mitchell is the best player on his team and is doing it all without Rodney Hood (trade) and Rudy Gobert (injury). I still lean toward Simmons, but Mitchell will probably steal from him in the second half. 

Chris Miles:  Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. As Damian Lillard put it, he’s actually leading his team. Secondly he isn’t a “red-shirt rookie” like his top competitor Ben Simmons. This is a two horse race if anyone picks someone else that’s a failed drug test.

Travis ThomasBen Simmons, 76ers.  He’s the second best player on a team destined for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. His combination of size and court vision reminds me of a young Magic Johnson.

Adam Wise: Ben Simmons, 76ers. I don't like the rule that he's technically a rookie (ahem, Blake Griffin winning over John Wall in 2010-11) but he's a triple-double threat every night and you can't ignore that. Donovan Mitchell is a close second.


Most Improved Player:

Nick Ashooh: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. It’s always tough to pick the MOP, because sometimes it’s more about bigger opportunity that showcases the game a player already has.

Steve BuckhantzJaylen Brown, Celtics. Every time I see him play, the results are amazing. A very close second would be Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks.

Chase Hughes: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Oladipo went from decent to stardom seemingly overnight and has made the Pacers look very smart for trading for him.

Kara Lawson: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.

Troy Machir: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. We've always known Oladipo has elite athleticism and talent, but the change in scenery meant more opportunities to lead and develop. He's gone from a solid start to a bona fide perennial All-Star in less than half a season. 

Chris MilesVictor Oladipo, Pacers. He’s running away with this award. I taught him how to shoot over the summer so I can’t wait to get my residuals.

Travis ThomasVictor Oladipo. The local product is an All-Star now and he’s the only bright light on a team that’s overachieving, proving he’s also a leader. It’s hard to imagine the Pacers being in the Playoff picture without Oladipo.

Adam Wise: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks. Should Tim Hardaway Jr. have a say in this? Giannis has upped his "wow" factor this season and it was already among to tops in the league. He's can't-miss viewing when he's on the floor.


Sixth Man of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Lou Williams, Clippers. No brainer here. "Lou-Will" is one of the top scorers in the NBA despite playing just 32 minutes per game.

Steve BuckhantzLou Williams, Clippers. He's making shots of the bench like Jamal Crawford and has had numerous game winners. I also like Terry Rozier of Boston. He's an excellent player with a huge upside.

Keely Diven:

Chase Hughes: Lou Williams, Clippers.  could have been an All-Star this year, he has been that good off the Clippers' bench. The guy is putting up career numbers and got a well-deserved contract extension along the way.

Kara Lawson: Lou Williams, Clippers. 

Troy Machir: Lou Williams, Clippers. There are several good candidates, but this is Lou Williams' award ... again. He's averaging over 20 ppg and coming off the bench AND nearly made the All-Star Game. When has that ever happened before?

Chris Miles:  Kelly Oubre, Wizards. Yep, I went full homer on this one. Dude is legit and this summer the “should Oubre start” camp is going to revolt if he keeps this up.

Travis ThomasLou Williams, Clippers. He should be every year. In fact they should rename the award, Lou Williams Of The Year. He’s averaging 23 points a game coming off the bench for a team going nowhere fast.

Adam Wise: Lou Williams, Clippers. He should've been an All-Star ... and he doesn't even start! 


Coach of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets. D’Antoni has kept the Rockets in contention for the top spot in the west, which means a true competitor to the Warriors. They’ve already had two double-digit win streaks, and now that he finally has a roster that fits his system, it’s not just Golden State that can run teams off the floor.

Steve Buckhantz: Eric Spoelstra, Heat. Just when you think they really don't have a lot going on in South Florida, he consistently keeps his squad in the game and has them poised to make a run in the post season. Brett Brown of the Sixers and Brad Steven of the Celtics would also get consideration.

Chase Hughes: Gregh Popovich, Spurs. The Spurs are third in the stacked Western Conference despite missing Kawhi Leonard.

Kara Lawson: Dwane Casey, Raptors.

Troy Machir: Dwane Casey, Raptors. The Cavs and Celtics are the talk of the East, but the Raptors are the most consistent team this side of the Mississippi River. Casey doesn't get enough credit, which is why I'm writing about him here. 

Chris MilesBrad Stevens, Celtics. I hate Boston, everything about it. Just being forced to pick this guy means I don’t have to write an explanation.

Travis ThomasBrad Stevens, Celtics. Boston has continually overachieved under Stevens tutelage. Despite the devastating injury to Gordon Hayward, Stevens still has the Celtics primed for a run at the NBA Finals.

Adam Wise: Dwane Casey, Raptors. Toronto seemed to be an afterthought in the East after everyone got all excited about the new faces in Boston and Cleveland. He's figured out how to use a deeper bench, while also giving ample minutes to his stars in DeRozan & Lowry. The Raptors are very well in the hunt for the top seed for that reason.


NBA Most Valuable Player:

Nick Ashooh: James Harden, Rockets. He leads the NBA in scoring, second in assists, and has Houston poised to give a legit push to the Warriors out West.

Steve Buckhantz: James Harden, Rockets. You can always make a case for the great players and how they elevate the athletes around them, and this is an award that's best suited to someone AFTER the season ends, but right now I'd go with Harden, who continues to play at a high level for his squad. Lebron will be there in the end, as will Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. 

Chase Hughes: James Harden, Rockets. He is the NBA's leading scorer, is second in assists and is leading the charge for the Rockets, who have the league's best record.

Kara Lawson: James Harden, Rockets. 

Troy Machir: James Harden, Rockets. LeBron James is still the best basketball player on the planet, but James Harden is the NBA MVP at the midway point. He's still the elite volume scorer he always was, but he's evolved into a player that makes his teammates around him better. Also, he scored a 60-point triple-double. 

Chris MilesJames Harden, Rockets. His 60-point triple-double should say enough. His team is also 26-1 when he has Chris Paul and Clint Capella. They also gave it to the Warriors and are in contention for the top seed in the West. Lebron James is second and could supplant Harden depending on how the season ends.

Travis ThomasJames Harden, Rockets. You could have made the case for him the past three seasons but other guys balled out of control and earned the award. This season it’s undeniable, he’s averaging  over 30 point per game and leading one of the best teams in the league.

Adam Wise: James Harden, Rockets. He's used the runner-up to the award as motivation this year. While the rebounding numbers are down (Clint Capella has gobbled them up), he's still near the top of the league in assists and he's leading the NBA in scoring. Oh yeah, and his play has elevated the Rockets into the "Could they really beat the Warriors in the playoffs?" discussion.


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Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

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Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

The Washington Wizards did not make any significant changes to their roster over the summer and valued continuity, knowing they had a solid group of young players on the rise.

That sort of stand-pat approach could have resulted in a boring first half of the season, but the Wizards managed to ride quite the rollercoaster from October to the All-Star break. 

A lot of things happened. Some were good and some were bad, but the eventual result as we sit here today is the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and a 33-24 record, good for a 47-win pace.

That's solid, especially considering the dramatic lows this team had to navigate through.

Here is a look at the biggest storylines of the 2017-18 Wizards season before the All-Star break...


Injury Impact

During the 2016-17 season, the Wizards' starting lineup missed a combined 17 games. That group of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat logged more minutes than any other starting five in the NBA. In terms of health, that season was one big best-case scenario and it wasn't to happen again this season.

The Wizards ran into injury troubles before training camp even began when Morris needed sports hernia surgery. By November, Wall was dealing with a left knee injury and Porter has had hip issues all season. Beal and Gortat played in all 57 games, but Wall missed 20, Morris missed nine and Porter was out for four of them.

This year their depth was tested much more than it was just one season ago.


Inconsistency Problems

For much of the first half, the Wizards just couldn't get out of their own way. They would rise up to play and often beat the good teams, then turn around and suffer terrible losses to some of the worst teams in the NBA. Many teams go through those types of issues, but the Wizards took it to an extreme. In the first half they beat the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors, Timberwolves and Thunder, yet lost to the Nets (twice), Mavs (twice), Lakers, Hawks and Hornets (twice).

It was a maddening trend and one the players and coaches were well aware of. As it kept plaguing them through the month of January, the Wizards appeared to have no answers, but they rebounded nicely in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break and some of their losses to teams that were sub-.500 at the time now don't look so bad. The Wizards, in fact, sit 19-9 against sub-.500 teams at the break. Only four teams in the East have more such wins.

And the Clippers and Jazz, who were struggling at the time they beat the Wizards, rallied to now hold winning records and be factors in the playoff race.


Emergenace of Satoransky and Oubre

The development of two young players in the first half of the season has vastly changed the Wizards' outlook in the short- and long-term. Kelly Oubre, Jr. took another step and gives them starter-caliber production off their bench. And Tomas Satoransky is now not just a replacement level backup point guard, but a real strength on their roster. 

Oubre continues to cut out his youthful mistakes on defense and has become one of their most consistent offensive players. He is third on the team in double-digit scoring games (38) with an average of 11.7 points, nearly double his output from last season. Satoransky is using his size and athleticism to affect games while making few costly errors. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team and leads the Wizards with a 46.8 three-point percentage. Both Oubre and Satoransky are providing value on both ends of the floor, have high ceilings and are on bargain contracts.


Rallying Without Wall

The Wizards were dealt some news in late January that could have crippled their season. They learned that Wall, their best player, would be out up to two months following arthroscopic left knee surgery. He would likely miss well over 20 games and the Wizards had been significantly better with him than without him in the previous months.

The Wizards, though, responded exceptionally well. They won seven of their final nine games before the break after Wall went down. The others in their starting lineup stepped up and Satoransky proved he was more than just a placeholder. They likely won't be able to keep up the 7-2 pace, but the Wizards showed they can still compete and win while Wall is out. That will be important with a tough schedule coming up out of the break.

Locker Room Chemisty

The Wizards entered this season with heightened expectations and as a result, couldn't tolerate some of their early season woes. There was a team meeting that didn't go as planned. There were things said in the media. Then, when Wall went out and the Wizards started playing better, people got carried away and said that Wall was holding the Wizards back. Wall even thought that sentiment was suggested by his teammates and aired his grievances publicly. 

That's what happens when teams have big goals and hit adversity, they point fingers and problems ensue. The Wizards, though, don't seem to have any major, untenable issues. However, their concerns need to be communicated better, not through social media or in front of cameras. That's what makes what could be considered normal locker room strife into national news.