OAKLAND, Calif. -- It would seem silly to think that the Wizards' hopes of beating the Golden State Warriors at home, where they are 35-0 this season, would hinge on the health of Markieff Morris but they do. Of course, better teams have come to Oracle Arena with a plan and failed miserably when faced with the wrath of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
The Wizards (36-37), however, are fighting for their playoff lives and pulling off such an upset could revive them psychologically as well as in the actual East standings.
"We got to go over there and just give everything we have. There's one word that has to stand out in front of everything. It's just desperation," said Wizards center Marcin Gortat. "We got to play desperate. We want to leave everything out there on the court. If we're not going to play like that then we aren't going to have a chance to win."
On Feb. 3, the Warriors won at Verizon Center 134-121, but it was an entertaining scrap in which Curry went for 51 points and John Wall countered with 41 points and 10 assists.
Undersized, the Wizards were starting Jared Dudley at power forward. He was just 1 of 4 for five points as no starter other than Wall scored in double-figures. Now the starter is Morris, who was acquired at the trade deadline and possibly will play tonight. Morris is 6-10, versatile enough to allow the Wizards to switch on coverages, a luxury they weren't able to stick with when Dudley was in the lineup.
Morris sat out Sunday's 101-88 win vs. the L.A. Lakers because of soreness in his left calf to improve his chances of playing Golden State. He's a much better option against Draymond Green, who can play center when the Warriors go to a small-ball lineup and allows them to switch everything and close out shooters more successfully because he can defend positions 1 through 5.
The Wizards are finding that Morris has a lot of the same qualities, evidenced by what he did consecutive games against Carmelo Anthony and Paul Millsap recently. He can hold his own one-on-one in the post and on the perimeter. Not having to help automatically improves the integrity of Washington's defense as a result.
Golden State (66-7) won't have Andre Igoudala (ankle) and his replacement, Brandon Rush (knee), has been listed as questionable to play. Morris having a big game is a necessary component for the Wizards to have any real chance at winning.
"I think he can help us a lot, being able switch and those type of things are things we're going to need," Wall said of Morris before shifting focus to why Curry was able come within two points of his season-high in Washington by scoring 36 in the first half alone. "He just got off. We were switching (pick-and-rolls). You don't switch Dud on Steph Curry. He don't want to get switched on (him). He was getting open looks and being aggressive, putting Dud in a bind. In the second half we were being more aggressive with him, more physical."
Bradley Beal, who came off the bench after having returned from a leg injury, will have to show up, too. He only had four points against the Lakers. Garrett Temple's defense is pivotal in relief as he has to help make Curry work for every look he gets.
"I think we should change some things because he had 51 points. He's going to hit some tough shots," Temple said. "As long as they're contested shots and he's not getting in the lane and making plays for everybody else, we'll have to live with the contested 30-footers.
"This game is going to be won on the defensive end. The few teams that have beat them they've been able to keep Curry in check and just defend more than one of their big three, Curry, Klay, Draymond."
The tendency is to have Gortat pressure the passer from the high post, in this case center Andrew Bogut, because he's the least threatening of their offensive weapons. But Bogut is a magnificent passer. He'll pick up cutters to the basket particularly when Golden State runs its Triangle actions. The more shots he he's allowed to take, the better off the Wizards will be.
"When Bogut has it don't pressure him. You've giving them the paint so wide open with everybody chasing over the top," Wall said of ball screens and dribble handoffs. "(We should) fall back into a zone and let that man (Gortat) protect the paint. Then you can chase Steph Curry off of threes."
There may not be enough time left in this season to determine how well Morris can work in Washington but he has three more years left on his contract at an average of $8 million each. What he produces compared to what he gets paid -- relative to players at his position and of his quality in an open marketplace -- makes him a bargain.
If he can become anything like Green, who benefits from having once-in-a-lifetime shotmakers around him who arguably inflate his assists numbers, Morris will be a steal.
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