In terrible losses to the New Orleans Pelicans (16 of 27), and the first meetings with the Indiana Pacers (19 of 26) and Dallas Mavericks (16 of 31), the Wizards were exploited from the three-point arc by allowing 61% accuracy. Promising a renewed focus with the Chicago Bulls on tap tonight, it's more about what's going on inside the paint that comes first.
And it makes sense in that their recent downfall, when they lost five games in a row until routing the Detroit Pistons by 43 points on Monday, began against the Bulls on Feb. 24. There was no Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose or Nikola Mirotic. Pau Gasol was sick and appeared doubtful to play though he eventually did. Fifty-four of Chicago's 109 points were scored inside the paint.
Half of E'Twaun Moore's eight field goals and half of Doug McDermott's six were converted at the rim. All six of Taj Gibson's made shots were at the rim. Aaron Brooks missed 10 of his 15 shots, but 4 of 5 he made? At the rim.
"We’re playing against teams earlier in the season when the point guards weren’t aggressive to the rack, looking to suck you in just so they can kick out for threes," said Garrett Temple, the Wizards' best perimeter defender. "It’s definitely going to change game by game but our core principles have to be protect the paint first and foremost. Even though everybody is in love with the three-point ball in this era of basketball the dunk is still the most (efficient) basket. We got to take that away."
A lot has been said since the Wizards lost all three games of a road trip that ended with the Denver Nuggets using the pick-and-roll to tear them apart inside. Four of D.J Augustin's five made field goals came at the rim. Seven of Gary Harris' nine made field goals came at the rim. All five of Jusuf Nurkic's buckets were converted at point-blank range. Adjustments were made to solve that equation with the Pistons' Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, but all of this requires flexibility and a well-coordinated, high-intensity effort.
While Drummond is a big man that rolls to the basket for lobs and requires weakside help, Gasol rarely does. He will pop back to the high post for a mid-range jumper which means the Wizards can get away with defending him without help. In fact, they can switch a guard onto him to contest and live with a big challenging the driver at the rim. Gasol, however, did not make this trip with Chicago (33-32) because of knee soreness.
That means Gibson will be the starter in the middle for the Bulls who will be significantly undersized against Marcin Gortat and Nene. Gibson isn't going to pop for the face-up. An exceptional high-jumper, he'll want the lobs like Drummond. The Bulls aren't going to run offense through him with his back to the basket and he is at a physical disadvantage in the trenches.
“We got back to our defensive principles in the way we’ve been playing, guys in the paint, being able to be physical and being able to close out to our guys (on the perimeter) and guard them 1-on-1," said Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, who returned from a sprained pelvis to start Monday. "We want to eliminate as many layups as possible."
McDermott is shooting 42% from three-point range and has scored in double figures 17 times since Jan. 1, including 29 in an upset of the Toronto Raptors on Monday. Snell is 35.4% and has scored in double figures just three times since the new calendar year, the last time coming in the game vs. the Wizards (16 points).
“We shouldn’t help as much on McDermott as you would maybe Tony Snell," said Jared Dudley, who has shifted to his originally intended role as a backup stretch option at power forward while Markieff Morris starts. "You have to be able to know the difference in you being able to help."
If the Wizards get too predictable, always sinking inside to take away the roll, a shooter will slip into that short corner behind the action to spot up for an open three-pointer.
"It’s a read. Sometimes you will be all the way in the paint. Sometimes you won’t necessarily have to be there because the big will be there. … It’s knowing who you’re guarding," Beal said. "If I’m guarding Kyle Korver, I’m probably not going to be all the way in the paint. It’s just a matter of knowing who you’re playing against and playing the percentages."
If the help comes from the guards in the paint, they'll have to hustle back to the arc to contest, too. It's double-duty for everybody.
"Nobody is hardly going to miss a dunk or layup," Beal said. "There’s a high-percent chance that you’ll miss a three. We love our chances of guys taking long, contested shots."
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